What the Date Rape Drugs Do


Under legislation passed last week by Congress, rapists who use the so-called date rape drugs to subdue their victims could get 20 years added onto their sentences.

Illegal use of the two hypnotic drugs--Rohypnol and the newer gamma hydroxybutyrate (GHB)--has been on the rise in recent months. Women across the United States and in Southern California have been coming forward with harrowing stories of waking up the next morning in strange beds with strange men.

Typically, the odorless and colorless drugs are slipped into beverages and can take effect within 30 minutes, leading to lethargy, a hypnotic state and blackouts with no memory of the events that occurred, says Greg Thompson, a pharmacist and director of the Los Angeles Regional Poison Information Center.


“If someone puts either one in your drink, it would be very difficult to know,” says Lee Cantrell, a pharmacist and supervisor at the center.

Part of the problem is that it is difficult to distinguish between simple intoxication and the effects of the drugs.

“Symptoms happen so rapidly and progress so quickly, by the time you realize it, you may be well on your way. . . . If you have one drink and can barely stand up, that’s a red flag,” he says.


Once studied for potential use as an anesthetic, GHB is a hypnotic sedative that “can be easily manufactured at home,” says Dr. Richard Kreutzer, acting chief of the Environmental Health Investigations branch of the California Department of Health Services.

Kreutzer, who has researched the drug, says that in its liquid form, GHB is often taken by the capful or capfuls, while one or two teaspoons of the powder form are often taken or slipped into drinks.

Also known as “Liquid X” or “Scoop,” the drug can take effect within 15 to 20 minutes.

“It is a central nervous system depressant, the same as alcohol,” he says. Those who are under the influence of GHB may initially become giddy, then uninhibited, dopey and talkative, Kreutzer says. Drowsiness sets in and victims may look like they are having a seizure.

“To some degree a person can resist the effects for a while,” he says, somewhat like fighting sleepiness.

If you suspect you have been slipped a dose or are with someone who might have gotten a dose, it’s wise to seek medical help immediately.

“Depending on the size of the dose, the body metabolizes it over the course of 30 minutes to two hours,” he says. There are no “demonstrated long-term effects,” although there are anecdotal reports of long-term abusers having problems such as memory loss and motor control difficulties.

Rohypnol (flunitrazepam), manufactured by Hoffmann-La Roche, is on the market in 64 countries as a prescription sleeping aid and a pre-surgery medication. It is not available in the United States but is available in Mexico.

Known also as “roofies,” “Mexican Valium” and “roachies,” the tablets are white and have the name “Roche” stamped on them and an encircled “1" or “2" (denoting a 1 milligram or 2 milligram dose).

In the wake of reports about misuse of the drug, Hoffmann-La Roche, based in Nutley, N.J., has launched an education campaign and is in the process of removing the 2-milligram tablet from the market, says Carolyn Glynn, a company spokeswoman. (The 2-milligram pill is reportedly used most often in date rape attempts.)

Sedative effects can be felt within 20 or 30 minutes, according to company literature, but the strongest effects occur within one to two hours and can last eight to 12 hours after the higher dose. Effects can include confusion, disorientation, drowsiness, impairment of motor skills, impaired judgment, dizziness and amnesia.

Deaths from GHB or Rohypnol alone are not common, Cantrell says, but the drugs are often combined with alcohol and other drugs, he adds, which can be potentially life-threatening.

Hoffmann-La Roche now offers a urine test to detect Rohypnol, available free of charge to police, rape crisis centers and hospital emergency rooms investigating sexual assault cases.