Rohypnol, the trade name for flunitrazepam, has been a concern for the last few years because of its abuse as a “date rape” drug. People may unknowingly be given the drug which, when mixed with alcohol, can incapacitate a victim and prevent them from resisting sexual assault. Also,Rohypnol may be lethal when mixed with alcohol and/or other depressants.
Rohypnol produces sedative-hypnotic effects including muscle relaxation and amnesia; it can also produce physical and psychological dependence. In Miami, one of the first sites of Rohypnol abuse, poison control centers report an increase in withdrawal seizures among people addicted to Rohypnol.
Rohypnol is not approved for use in the United States and its importation is banned. Illicit use of Rohypnol began in Europe in the 1970s and started appearing in the United States in the early 1990s, where it became known as “rophies,” “roofies,” “roach,” “rope,” and the “date rape” drug.
Another very similar drug is now being sold as “roofies” in Miami, Minnesota, and Texas. This is clonazepam, marketed in the U.S. as Klonopin and in Mexico as Rivotril. It is sometimes abused to enhance the effects of heroin and other opiates. Based on emergency room admission information, Boston, San Francisco, Phoenix, and Seattle appear to have the highest use rates of clonazepam.
Since about 1990, GHB (gamma- hydroxybutyrate) has been abused in the U.S. for euphoric, sedative, and anabolic (body building) effects. As with Rohypnol and clonazepam, GHB has been associated with sexual assault in cities throughout the country.
Reports from Detroit indicate liquid GHB is being used in nightclubs for effects similar to those of Rohypnol. It is also common in the club scene in Phoenix, Honolulu, and Texas, where it is known as “liquid ecstacy,” “somatomax,” “scoop,” or “grievous bodily harm.” In Miami, poison control center calls have reflected problems associated with increased GHB use, including loss of consciousness. In New York City, there have been reports of GHB use among those in the fashion industry. In Atlanta, it is commonly used as a synthetic steroid at fitness centers and gyms.
Coma and seizures can occur following abuse of GHB and, when combined with methamphetamine, there appears to be an increased risk of seizure. Combining use with other drugs such as alcohol can result in nausea and difficulty breathing. GHB may also produce withdrawal effects, including insomnia, anxiety, tremors, and sweating. Because of concern about Rohypnol, GHB, and other similarly abused sedative-hypnotics, Congress passed the “Drug-Induced Rape Prevention and Punishment Act of 1996″ in October 1996. This legislation increased Federal penalties for use of any controlled substance to aid in sexual assault.
Information and educational materials on Rohypnol and GHB directed toward college students are available from the Rape Treatment Center at Santa Monica-UCLA Medical Center at 1-800-END-RAPE (1-800-363-7273). These materials are also being distributed by the U.S. Department of Justice to law enforcement agencies throughout the country.