Drug-Facilitated Sexual Assault ('Date Rape')

Richard H. Schwartz, MD, Regina Milteer, MD, Department of Pediatrics, Inova Fairfax Hospital for Children, Falls Church, Va; and Marc A. LeBeau, MS, Chemistry Unit, FBI Laboratory, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Washington, DC

South Med J. 2000;93(6) 

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Flunitrazepam (Rohypnol)

Banned in the United States, flunitrazepam is manufactured legally in Europe and both legally and illegally in Mexico.[2,3,4] Where the drug is legal, it is used as a sedative/tranquilizer. Often referred to as the date-rape drug, flunitrazepam can be purchased at some rave nightclubs and bars. It was originally packaged in foil-backed, clear plastic "blister packs" in 1 mg and 2 mg doses. Legally manufactured and sold in Europe and Latin America, flunitrazepam has now been reformulated so that it imparts an easily identifiable blue color to clear beverages and a haziness to colored beverages. Street names for the 2 mg tablet include Roofies, or R-2s, and Roches Dos. When illicit flunitrazepam is dissolved in a drink, it is odorless and tasteless.

Symptoms of intoxication include rapid loss of inhibition and consciousness that may progress rapidly to stage 4 coma. Flumazenil, a benzodiazepine antagonist, can successfully reverse the central nervous system (CNS) effects of flunitrazepam. Under the Drug-Induced Rape Prevention and Punishment Act, passed by the US Congress in 1996, use of flunitrazepam for purposes of rape is punishable by a fine and a sentence to prison. Distribution or surreptitious administration of flunitrazepam is punishable by up to 20 years in prison. Although GHB is not currently a federally controlled substance, it is scheduled (from I to IV) in 23 states. Based on this specific schedule, punishment for possession or distribution of GHB will vary.

Flunitrazepam may not be detected with the typical cut-off points used by immunoassay screens for benzodiazepines.[5,6,7] For cases of sexual assault, cost-free testing is provided for benzodiazepines, including flunitrazepam, GHB, alcohol, and other commonly encountered drugs (Hoffman La Roche Sexual Assault Hotline, telephone 800-608-6540). Testing from several national forensic and toxicology laboratories ranges from approximately $100 to $400 per specimen (National Medical Services, Willow Grove, Pa).


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