Beware of the Date Rape Drug Rohypnol

July 21, 2007

Rohypnol is a brand name for flunitrazepam (a benzodiazepine), a very strong tranquilizer similar to valium (diazepam), but many times more potent. Rohypnol produces a sedative effect, amnesia, muscle relaxation, and a slowing of psychomotor responses. The effects usually start within 20-30 minutes and lasts for several hours. The drug is often distributed on the street in it’s original bubble packaging which adds an air of legitimacy and makes it appear to be legal.

It is known by several street names: Roachies, La Roche, Rope, Rib, Roche, Rophies, Roofies, Ruffies, Mexican valium, or the “forget (me) pill.” Rohypnol is especially dangerous because it is inexpensive and can cost as little as $1 per pill. This makes it popular in high schools, college campuses, clubs, bars, and at private parties.

Rohypnol became famous because it can cause memory blackouts with periods of memory loss that follow ingestion of the drug with alcohol. Victims who have been raped with Rohypnol have reported waking up in strange rooms, with or without clothing, bruises on their body, etc., but they have no memory of the previous night.

A Common Scenario:

* The victim is at a party or bar and has something to drink. The attacker somehow slips a Rohypnol tablet into the liquid – perhaps when the victim turns their head or leaves their drink to go to the bathroom. Rohypnol tablets are white and are single or cross-scored on one side with ROCHE and 1 or 2 encircled on the other.

* About twenty minutes after finishing their drink, the victim begins to feel very disoriented, or drunk. Victims of Rohypnol have often only had one or two drinks, and they remember feeling much more drunk than they should have been.

* The attacker volunteers to escort the sick or drunk person home. Once out of the public eye, the attacker may take the victim to a hotel, to the victim’s home, or to other places.

* Several hours later, the victim wakes up feeling very disoriented. They can’t remember what happened after they left the party, but they may find evidence that something was done to their body while they were asleep.

* Many victims raped under the influence of Rohypnol are unsure whether or not they were raped, because they have no memory of the event. It can take several days to piece together a story from eyewitness reports.

* Rohypnol has been used to rape both men and women.

What Rohypnol Looks and Feels Like:

* Rohypnol is similar to Valium but about 10 times as strong. In Europe and South America, it is a prescription drug used as a preanesthetic agent and as a potent sedative.

* Rohypnol comes as a small pill that can be dropped into the drink of an unsuspecting victim. The pill can dissolve in either alcoholic or non-alcoholic drinks, and the drug is odorless and tasteless.

* Initially, Rohypnol causes muscle relaxation, dizziness, and headaches, slows psychomotor responses, and lowers inhibitions. Victims may have difficulty moving or speaking. Victims often remember the effects of the drug as a feeling of being drunk. Rohypnol takes 20-30 minutes to take effect.

* Rohypnol has a synergistic effect with alcohol. When taken with alcohol, Rophypnol can cause severe disorientation and a loss of memory. These memory blackouts are typically 8-12 hours long. The victim may or may not appear awake during this time.

* Victims often feel nauseous the day after they have received Rohypnol.

* Rohypnol is a physically addictive drug. Repeated use will lead to addiction.

* There are multiple forms of the drug on the market. The original tablets, marketed by the pharmaceutical company Hoffman La Roche, look like aspirin and dissolve rapidly in liquid. In response to widespread abuse of this drug, Hoffman La Roche changed the tablets; the new tablets dissolve more slowly and will turn a drink blue. “Copycat” flunitrazepam tablets have also been produced by pharmaceutical companies in South Africa, South America, and possibly Egypt. The copycat tablets are reddish-brown to white and dissolve well in liquids.

* Rohypnol can be found in large urban areas and even in rural areas. The drug is most common in the southern and eastern parts of the U.S., where there have been several widely publicized seizures and rape cases.

* A less common use of Rohypnol: the tablets are crushed, often mixed with other drugs, and snorted. This route of administration is more common for recreational drug users than for rapists.

Legal Considerations:

* There is a urine test for Rohypnol. However, the drug can only be detected for up to 72 hours after ingestion. If you or a friend think you have been raped with Rohypnol, it is important to get a urine test as soon as possible. Rape crisis centers and the police are best equipped to handle any testing.

* A urine test that is performed without police intervention may be thrown out in court. This is because the legal system requires the prosecution to show “chain of custody” of the urine sample- to prove that the sample came from the victim and could not have been mixed up with anyone else’s urine.

* Rohypnol is illegal in the United States. According to the Drug Induced Rape Prevention and Punishment Act of 1996, it is a crime to give a controlled substance to anyone, without their knowledge, with the intent of committing a violent crime (such as rape). Violation of this law is punishable by up to 20 years in prison and a fine of $250,000.

* There has been much talk of reclassifying Rohypnol into the same legal category as LSD (a Class I controlled substance), which would greatly increase the penalties for possession, but this has not yet happened.

* Hoffmann-LaRoche has established toll-free numbers to provide information on Rohypnol and instructions for drug testing. The general information number is (800) 720-1076.

Reducing Your Risk:

* Never leave your drink unattended. If you have to go to the bathroom, either finish your drink or throw it away.

* Beverages that come in sealed containers (unopened cans or bottles) are much safer than mixed drinks.

* If you order a mixed drink, watch the person who mixes it.

* Do not take any open beverages, including alcohol, from someone you do not know well and trust.

* Never drink anything out of a common punch bowl.

* If someone offers to buy you a drink, go up to the bar with them to accept the drink.

* Subscribe to the “buddy system”. Always party with one or more friends, and keep an eye on each other. If someone begins to appear too drunk, get them to a safe place. Many attempted Rohypnol rapes have been prevented by watchful friends.