Date Rape Drugs: It’s Not Just Roofies Anymore

  1. Table of ContentsPrint
  2. The Dangers You Know
  3. Lesser-Known Dangers
  4. Staying Safe
  5. What to Do if You Think You’ve Been Drugged

Man drugging woman's drink
Rape is a serious criminal act, with the potential for severe and lasting repercussions on the victim’s life. Rape involves sexually taking advantage of another person without their consent, and this includes having sex with a person who is incoherent or unconscious. Some perpetrators attempt to facilitate their assault by using substances that incapacitate their victims to varying degrees.

“Date rape” is a term that refers to a person forcing someone that they are socially, romantically, or casually involved with to have sex without consent. Often, this type of rape is conceptualized as a predator first drugging the victim and, next, sexually assaulting them. While this is sometimes the case, date rape more often involves the perpetrator taking advantage of their victim’s chosen insobriety. Perhaps they were out celebrating with friends and had a little too much to drink, or unknowingly mixed certain drugs, rendering themselves incapacitated. In either scenario, the rapist takes advantage of this too-intoxicated state and forever alters the victim’s life.

Regardless of whether the victim chose to ingest a substance or they were unknowingly drugged, it is vital to remember that rape is never the victim’s fault. Consent must be clear, and a lack of a stated “no” or “stop” does not constitute consent. A person who is not sober cannot consent to sex!

Nearly half of all sexual assaults involve alcohol 1, 2, 3, but prevalence estimates for other sedative substances are not well known due to the shorter period of time that these drugs remain in the body. Some substances that are used to incapacitate people are well-known, such as Rohypnol (flunitrazepam), GHB, and ketamine, while others are not as widely recognized (clonazepam, etizolam, and other new substances). It is important to know the potential effects that these substances can have in order to recognize a risky situation and get out.


The Dangers You Know

Some substances used for date rape are relatively well-known. These include:

  • Rohypnol (“roofies”).
  • Ketamine (“special K”).
  • Gamma-Hydroxybutyrate (“GHB”).

These drugs all have similar depressant effects, but each one will affect a person a little differently, especially when combined with alcohol, which is commonly how these drugs are given to a victim (e.g., slipped into a drink).

Rohypnol

Woman dizzy from drinking

Rohypnol (generic name: flunitrazepam) is often referred to by street names such as:

  • Roofies.
  • The Forget Pill.
  • Circles.
  • La Rocha.

Rohypnol is a powerful benzodiazepine that is prescribed in certain countries to treat insomnia 4. In the US, however, this drug is illegal due to its powerful effects and reputation as a date rape drug.

Rohypnol pills are tasteless, odorless, and colorless 4, 5 and easily dissolve in liquid, making it easy for perpetrators to discreetly incapacitate potential victims. Newer versions of the drug have a blue center that can turn a light-colored drink blue, but generic versions may still be colorless in liquids, making them dangerously disguisable.

Taken alone, Rohypnol produces feelings of 4:

  • Sedation.
  • Lessened anxiety.
  • Eased muscle tension.

Effects can begin as early as 30 minutes after ingestion, peaking within 2 hours 5. Even a dose as low as 1 mg can exert its effects for up to 8 hours 5.

When consumed with alcohol, Rohypnol’s effects are enhanced to dangerous levels. Both substances have sedative effects that compound when taken together, resulting in extreme drowsiness and even amnesia, meaning the person will not remember what happened during the time they were under the influence, depending on the amount consumed 4.

Ketamine

Ketamine is a potent dissociative anesthetic medication with some hallucinogenic effects 6. It can be obtained in clear liquid and white powder form, both of which mix easily with drinks, though they both have an extreme bitter taste.

The powder may even be cut with other powder substances such as cocaine, MDMA, or amphetamine for snorting and may be added to joints or cigarettes to drug a person without their knowledge. Ketamine is often referred to by the following names:

  • Special K.
  • Vitamin K.
  • Kitty.
  • Kit Kat.
  • Cat Valium.

Ketamine’s effects come on quickly, usually felt within 1-30 minutes of ingestion and lasting about an hour 7. Depending on the dose, effects may range from sedation and pain relief to amnesia and dissociation, wherein the person feels removed from or out of control of her own body 6.

These strong effects contribute to its involvement in date rape, as higher doses of ketamine may render a person unconscious or unable to move.

Gamma-Hydroxybutyric Acid (GHB)

GHB is short for gamma-Hydroxybutyric acid, a central nervous system (CNS) depressant. Xyrem (sodium oxybate) – a prescription drug used to treat a condition known as cataplexy, as well as to manage the excessive daytime sleepiness associated with narcolepsy – is a branded, pharmaceutical form of GHB.

GHB commonly goes by the following names:

  • G.
  • Liquid X.
  • Goop.
  • Scoop.

GHB is produced naturally in the body in small amounts, but it can also be synthesized in a lab 8. Manmade GHB is commonly found online and on the streets and is regularly adulterated with various caustic chemicals used at some point during the process of its illicit production, including sodium hydroxide (e.g., lye – found in some drain cleaners). GHB is sought out by recreational users for its CNS depressant effects (i.e., a sedative, relaxing high that can leave a person drowsy, confused, and amnesic 8.)

GHB is found in both a powder and liquid form, and both dissolve easily in liquid. It is colorless, odorless, and has a slight salty taste that can be masked easily by strong flavors 8. Effects can come on within 10 to 20 minutes, lasting up to 4 hours 9. When combined with alcohol, the depressant effects are enhanced, leading to extreme sedation and memory problems, ultimately leaving a person vulnerable to assault.

What About Alcohol?

Alcohol is a drug that has widespread, prevalent use. Many people enjoy its inhibition-lowering effects, but unfortunately, some people use it to take advantage of others. Almost half of all sexual assaults involve alcohol consumption by either the rapist or the victim 1, 2, 3, but this is not an excuse.

Remember, an intoxicated person cannot consent to sex.


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Lesser-Known Dangers

Some substances that predators utilize are not as widely recognized. Etizolam, Clonazepam, and other research chemicals have been increasingly found in cases of rape.

Etizolam

Etizolam (aka “etizzy”) is a tasteless medication related to benzodiazepines that is not approved for medical use in the US. The drug can be obtained in both pill and powder form, and it produces depressant effects including 10:

  • Sedation.
  • Muscle relaxation.
  • Memory loss.

In animal studies it has been found to be up to 10 times more potent than Valium 10. Similar to “roofies,” ketamine, and GHB, etizolam’s effects are enhanced when combined with alcohol, leading to its growing reputation as a date rape drug.

Clonazepam

Clonazepam (trade name: Klonopin) is a benzodiazepine medication, similar to Rohypnol. It is commonly referred to by the names “KPin” or “Pin”).

Clonazepam dissolves very quickly in liquid, and has little to no taste—in fact, it might even taste slightly sweet, which can be easily masked by other strong flavors. Effects include:

  • Extreme drowsiness.
  • Problems with memory.
  • Blurred vision.
  • Loss of coordination.

All of the effects listed above are heightened by co-consumption with alcohol, making it a dangerous substance in the hands of a would-be rapist 11.

“Research Chemicals”

Many substances with similar effects to these date rape drugs are being developed every day. These drugs, sometimes labeled “research chemicals,” are constantly evolving and changing formulations to escape regulation.

These drugs vary widely in formulation but most will produce confusion, disorientation, and memory problems in the drugged individual.


Staying Safe

Rape is never the victim’s fault—the fault lies solely with the perpetrator. However, there are some precautions you can take that may help you stay safe and avoid being drugged:

  • Be aware of the people in the room. This includes being aware of other potential victims and anyone who appears incoherent or unaware of her surroundings. If anyone seems suspicious or predatory, steer clear and pay attention to how close they get to people and drinks. If you find yourself feeling suddenly and severely intoxicated, ask for help from a friend in getting home safely. Likewise, offer help to those who appear to be severely intoxicated and at-risk.
  • Keep track of what substances you and others are using. Along similar lines, avoid taking substances (including drinks) from a person that you do not know. While we do not endorse the illicit use of recreational drugs, if you do find yourself in a situation where drugs have been obtained from someone you don’t k now, you may consider using a testing kit to check the ingredients and ensure that they aren’t lying about what they’re giving you. Certain substance combinations can be especially debilitating, such as benzodiazepines and alcohol, cocaine and ketamine, and many other drug blends with interactive effects. While the best prevention method is not to take any drugs, using a testing kit can help you avoid dangerous drug mixtures and adulterated substances.
  • Always watch your drink! It can be dangerously easy for a predator to slip a drug into someone else’s drink—it only takes one moment of distraction. Even though it can be inconvenient, keeping your drink in hand or in sight is the best way to ensure that nothing goes into it. In addition, never take a drink from a stranger unless you watched it be prepared and brought to you. If someone offers to buy you a drink and you accept, go with them to the bar and grab it yourself rather than trust them to bring it back to you.

Credit: JoeySalads

If you see a person in a dangerous situation, especially if you see someone being drugged, taken advantage of, or assaulted, step in and help them. This can include taking immediate action or even calling for help from police and others nearby. Everyone has to work together to prevent rape, and looking out for one another is the best way to foster a network of safety.


What to Do if You Think You’ve Been Drugged

First take a moment to remind yourself that no matter what happened, it is not your fault.

If you are out on the town and suddenly feel significantly more intoxicated than you believe you should—especially if you’ve been hanging around or talking to a new person—you may want to take cautionary steps to ensure your own safety. If you know that something is not right, tell someone—your friends, the bartender, a bouncer—or even just call a cab to take you home. If you’ve been drugged, you need to get to a safe place as soon as possible or try to make sure someone is looking out for you.

If you do not remember what happened the night before and you suspect that someone may have raped you, first take a moment to remind yourself that no matter what happened, it is not your fault.

Fuzzy memory of the night before and extreme hangover symptoms may indicate that you were drugged. Here are some things that you can ask yourself to give you a better idea of whether or not you were drugged:

  • Do I feel like something happened but I can’t remember?
  • Are there any marks on my body that might indicate sexual assault such as bruises?
  • Are my clothes disheveled?
  • Does it seem like I was feeling stronger effects than would be expected?
  • Was there anyone that gave me an odd or uncomfortable feeling?

A victim of drugged rape may not be aware of what happened until many hours afterward 12. Because many of these drugs process through the body within this timeframe, there may be no way of knowing that drugs were involved. Regardless of whether the substance is cleared from the body or not, it is vital to get care right away by going to a hospital or rape crisis center. If you can, have a trusted friend or family member drive you and bring a change of clothes to the hospital/center because they will take the ones that you woke up in for evidence.

In order to preserve as much potential evidence as possible, do not urinate, shower, wash your hands, brush your teeth, eat, or drink before you go to a hospital or crisis center. This period of time is going to be difficult, as the doctors have to make sure to get all possible evidence they can.

Therapist comforting woman

From the hospital or crisis center, call the police. They will have you run through your memory of what happened, and may want to collect further evidence from the area where you believe the assault happened—even a drinking glass or bodily fluids on the bed can help further the investigation. Be sure to tell the police everything you can, remembering that nothing you did justifies sexual assault.

Once you are out of the hospital, seek comforting support. Counseling and therapy are invaluable resources for those coping with sexual assault. Calling a crisis center or hotline can help you connect with someone who knows how to help victims of rape cope with all the emotions and changes that come from such an experience. The National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE is a great resource for those recovering from sexual assault.

Healing yourself after rape is never easy, but taking all possible steps to ensure that your rapist is caught and convicted and that you have the love, support, and skills training that you need will help you to heal.


Sources:

  1. Abbey, A., Zawacki, T., Buck, P. O., Clinton, A. M., & McAuslan, P. (2004). Sexual assault and alcohol consumption: What do we know about their relationship and what types of research are still needed? Aggression and Violent Behavior, 9. 271–303.
  2. Seto, M. C. & Barbaree, H. E. (1995). The role of alcohol in sexual aggression. Clinical Psychology Review, 15. 545– 66.
  3. Testa M. The impact of men's alcohol consumption on perpetration of sexual aggression. Clinical Psychology Review. 2002; 22:1239–1263.
  4. Drug Enforcement Administration. Drug Fact Sheet: Rohypnol.
  5. Centre for Addiction and Mental Health. (2003). Do You Know: Rohypnol.
  6. Drug Enforcement Administration. Drug Fact Sheet: Ketamine.
  7. Centre for Addiction and Mental Health. (2012). Do You Know: Ketamine.
  8. Drug Enforcement Administration. Drug Fact Sheet: GHB.
  9. Centre for Addiction and Mental Health. (2003). Do You Know: GHB.
  10. U.S. Department of Justice. (2014). Etizolam. Drug Enforcement Administration: Office of Diversion Control.
  11. U.S. National Library of Medicine. (2010). Clonazepam. National Institute of Health.
  12. Office on Women’s Health. (2012). Date Rape Drugs Fact Sheet. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
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