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Protecting yourself from date rape drugs

What are “date rape” drugs?

A date rape drug, also called a predator drug, is any drug that can be used to assist in the execution of drug facilitated sexual assault (DFSA). The unofficial term “date rape drug” came into widespread usage in the early 1990s through U.S. news media reports.

The most common types of DFSA are those in which a victim ingested drugs willingly for recreational purposes, or had them administered surreptitiously: it is the latter type of assault that the term “date rape drug” most often refers to. Date rape drugs often have sedative, hypnotic, dissociative, and/or amnesiac effects, and can be added to a food or drink without the victim’s knowledge.

Most students forget that alcohol is the number one date rape drug on college campuses. Approximately 97,000 students between the ages of 18 and 24 are victims of alcohol-related sexual assault or date rape (Hingson et al., 2005). Although it is important to protect yourself against other date rape drugs, alcohol is by far the most widely used.

Types:

The three drugs most commonly used for DFSA are alcohol and two prescription-strength sleep aids. The two prescription drugs are GHB, also known as gamma-hydroxybutyric acid, and benzodiazepines (such as flunitrazepam, also known as Rohypnol or “roofies”).

Rohypnol

The Rohypnol pill looks like aspirin. Like alcohol, the drug is considered a date rape drug of choice; attackers slip the drug into victims’ drinks to promote disinhibition. The drug is given to unwary victims (male or female) without their consent. The victim is physically incapacitated and has impaired judgment. This makes victims more vulnerable to assault and rape. Because of the memory loss and confusion under the influence of this drug, rape cases are difficult to prosecute. Rohypnol is an odorless, colorless, tasteless drug. If you or someone you trust did not open the container, do not eat or drink its contents. Never leave an open drink unattended and avoid punch bowls which may be spiked. If you experience any of the symptoms associated with Rohypnol, have someone take you to the health center or hospital immediately. Rohypnol produces sedative effects, amnesia, muscle relaxation, and the slowing of psychomotor performance. Sedation occurs within 15 to 30 minutes after ingestion of a 2-mg tablet, and lasts for approximately 8 hours. Rohypnol is 10 times more potent than Valium and enters the bloodstream as quickly as 15 minutes after ingestion. A single 2-milligram pill has the same potency as a 6-pack of beer, but the effects differ slightly. Users can experience extreme sedation, dizziness, and loss of bodily control. Rohypnol causes an intoxication where users don’t care about what they do or cannot stop what happens to them.

Ketamine

Ketamine was developed in the 1960’s as an anesthetic for surgeries. Today it is used mostly by veterinarians. Ketamine causes unconsciousness, hallucinations, loss of body control and numbing. Overdose can be fatal. Ketamine is found in a white powder or a liquid and has a horrible, strong bitter flavor. Ketamine works very quickly, so if you tasted it in your drink you would only have a few seconds before losing consciousness.

GHB

Gamma-hydroxybutyrate (GHB) is a central nervous system depressant. First synthesized in the 1920s, it is a naturally occurring substance found in nearly all animal tissue, in some fruits, and in wine. It was used as a general anaesthetic in the 1960s and 1970s, and has been used more recently by bodybuilders in hopes it would promote fat reduction and muscle development, until being banned for sale as a supplement in the United States by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 1990. It is marketed in some European countries as an adjunct to anesthesia. It is sold as a liquid, or a light-coloured powder that dissolves easily in liquid. It has no odor, tastes slightly salty, and is almost undetectable when mixed in a drink.

GHB is a depressant that is chemically similar to a substance that is found in every cell of the human body. GHB was used in the past to treat childbirth problems and anxiety. It was made illegal in the 90’s as GHB slows the brain and body and is easy to overdose and cause addiction. In small doses it produces mild sedation, slowed heart and breathing rates. In large doses it can cause seizures, coma, or death.

GHB takes effect in about 15 to 30 minutes, and the effects last from three to six hours. They are similar to those of alcohol, and if alcohol and GHB are taken together the effects of each are intensified. Small amounts of GHB act as a relaxant, and can slow heart rate and respiration and interfere with blood circulation, motor coordination and balance. Larger amounts interfere with motor and speech control and can cause vomiting followed by unconsciousness or a coma-like sleep. GHB can also cause mental or physical paralysis, nausea, vomiting, tremors, delusions, dizziness, respiratory distress, bowel and bladder incontinence and amnesia. Dizziness can last as long as two weeks in some cases. GHB is only detectable in urine for six to twelve hours after ingestion. The National Drug Intelligence Center (NDIC) says that in the United States GHB has surpassed Rohypnol as the substance most commonly used in DFSA, likely because GHB is much more easily available, cheaper and leaves the body more quickly.

Tips on Staying Safe

Sexual assault is any type of sexual activity that a person does not agree to. It can include touching that is not okay; putting something into the vagina; sexual intercourse; rape; and attempted rape. These “date rape” drugs are powerful and dangerous. They can be slipped into your drink when you are not looking. The drugs often have no color, smell, or taste, so you can’t tell if you are being drugged. The drugs can make you become weak and confused — or even pass out — so that you are unable to refuse sex or defend yourself. If you are drugged, you might not remember what happened while you were drugged. Date rape drugs are used on both females and males.

Both male and female have been victims of date rape drugs. Tips for staying safe:

  • Keep a clear head when socializing, especially in bars by keeping track of your drinks.
  • Never leave your drink unattended or hand it to anyone else. If you have not been watching your drink, get a new one.
  • Communicate your plans with your friends and mates. Maintain control of yourself at all times.
  • Trust your instincts. If a situation doesn’t feel right, walk away.
  • Unless in a bar, make your own drinks. Remember a glass or cup can have multiple drink equivalents.

What should you do if you think you’ve been drugged and raped?

Get medical care right away. Call 911 or have a trusted friend take you to a hospital emergency room. Don’t urinate, douche, bathe, brush your teeth, wash your hands, change clothes, or eat or drink before you go. These things may give evidence of the rape.

Ask the hospital to take a urine (pee) sample that can be used to test for date rape drugs. The drugs leave your system quickly. Rohypnol stays in the body for several hours, and can be detected in the urine up to 72 hours after taking it. GHB leaves the body in 12 hours. Don’t urinate before going to the hospital.

Get counseling and treatment. Feelings of shame, guilt, fear, and shock are normal. A counselor can help you work through these emotions and begin the healing process. Calling a crisis center or a hotline is a good place to start. One national hotline is the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 800-656-HOPE.

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