Date rape drug

Rohypnol (flunitrazepam) molecular structure
Rohypnol (flunitrazepam) molecule

A date rape drug, also referred to as a predator drug, is any drug that is an incapacitating agent which, when administered to another person, incapacitates the person and renders them vulnerable to a drug facilitated sexual assault (DFSA), including rape. The most common types of DFSA are those in which a victim consumes a recreational drug such as alcohol administered surreptitiously.[1] The most common form of DFSA is alcohol-related,[2] with the victim in most cases consuming the alcohol voluntarily. Other date rape drugs include rohypnol, ketamine and gamma-hydroxybutyrate (GHB).


There is currently no comprehensive data on how frequently DFSA occurs with the use of surreptitious drug administration. The lack of data is due to the low report rate of assaults and because rape victims who do report are often either never tested for these drugs, are tested for the wrong ones, or the tests are administered after the drug has been metabolized and left their body.

A 1999 study of 1,179 urine specimens from victims of suspected DFSAs in 49 American states found six (0.5%) positive for Rohypnol, 97 (8%) positive for other benzodiazepines, 48 (4.1%) positive for GHB, 451 (38%) positive for alcohol and 468 (40%) negative for any of the drugs searched for.[3] A similar study of 2,003 urine samples of victims of suspected DFSAs found less than 2% tested positive for Rohypnol or GHB.[4] The samples used in these studies could only be verified as having been submitted within a 72-hour time frame or a 48-hour time frame. Some of the substances tested for, such as GHB, are not detectable after 8–12 hours.

A three-year study in the UK detected sedatives or disinhibiting drugs that victims said they had not voluntarily taken in the urine of two percent of suspected DFSA victims. In 65% of the 1014 cases included in this study, testing could not be conducted within a time frame that would allow detection of GHB.[5][6] A 2009 Australian study found that of 97 instances of patients admitted to hospital believing their drinks might have been spiked, illicit drugs were detected in 28% of samples, and nine cases were identified as "plausible drink spiking cases". This study defined a "plausible drink spiking case" in such a way that cases where (a) patients believed that their drink had been spiked, and (b) lab tests showed agents that patients said they had not ingested would still be ruled out as plausible if the patient did not also (c) exhibit "signs and symptoms" that were considered "consistent with agents detected by laboratory screening."[7]

Documented date rape drugs

The drug most commonly used to facilitate sexual assault is alcohol, consumed voluntarily. Practically any drug (administered openly or surreptitiously) that facilitates rape could be considered a date rape drug. Since the mid-1990s, the media and researchers have documented a new form of DFSA featuring date rape drugs such as rohypnol and ketamine. Other drugs used in DFSA include hypnotics such as zopiclone and the widely available zolpidem (Ambien), sedatives such as neuroleptics (anti-psychotics), chloral hydrate and some histamine H1 antagonists, common recreational drugs such as ethanol, marijuana, cocaine, and less common anticholinergics, barbiturates, opioids, PCP, scopolamine,[8] nasal spray ingredient oxymetazoline,[9][10][11] and certain solvents like GHB, GBL, and BD.


See also: Alcohol and sex

Researchers agree that the most common form of DFSA is alcohol-related,[2] with the victim in most cases consuming the alcohol voluntarily. In most jurisdictions alcohol is legal and readily available, and is believed to be used in the majority of assaults.[9] Many perpetrators use alcohol because their victims often willingly drink it, and can be encouraged to drink enough to lose inhibitions or consciousness. Sex with an unconscious victim is considered rape in most jurisdictions, and some assailants have committed "rapes of convenience" whereby they assaulted a victim after he or she had become unconscious from drinking too much.[12]

Alcohol consumption is known to have effects on sexual behavior and aggression. During social interactions alcohol consumption causes more biased appraisal of a partner’s sexual motives while impairing communication about and enhancing misperception of sexual intentions, effects exacerbated by peer influence about how to behave when drinking.[13] The effects of alcohol at the point of forced sex commonly include an impaired ability to rectify misperceptions, and a diminished ability to resist sexual advances and aggressive sexual behavior.[13]

The Blade released a special report, "The Making of an Epidemic," criticizing a study conducted in the 1990s that concluded that 55% of rape victims had been intoxicated. According to The Blade, the study specifically ignored an Ohio statute that excluded "...situations where a person plies his intended partner with drink or drugs in hopes that lowered inhibition might lead to a liaison." The author of the study later admitted that the wording of the survey had been ambiguous.[14]

Alcohol in campus rape

The increase of sexual assaults on college campuses has been attributed to the social expectations of students to participate in alcohol consumption; social norm dictate that students drink heavily and engage in casual sex.[15]

Various studies have concluded the following:


Main article: Z-drug


Zolpidem (Ambien) is one of the most common date-rape drugs according to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.[17]


Benzodiazepines (tranquilizers), such as Valium, Librium, Xanax, and Ativan, are prescribed to treat anxiety, panic attacks, insomnia, and several other conditions, and are also frequently used recreationally. Benzodiazepines are often used in DFSA, with the most notorious being flunitrazepam (chemical name) or Rohypnol (proprietary or brand name), also known as "roofies," "rope," and "roaches."[18][19]

The benzodiazepines midazolam and temazepam were the two most common benzodiazepines utilized for date rape.[20]

Benzodiazepines can be detected in urine through the use of drug tests administered by medical officials or sold at pharmacies and performed at home. Most tests will detect benzodiazepines for a maximum of 72 hours after it was taken. Most general benzodiazepine detection tests will not detect Rohypnol: the drug requires a test specifically designed for that purpose. One new process can detect a 2 mg dose of Rohypnol for up to 28 days post-ingestion.[10][21] Other tests for Rohypnol include blood and hair tests. Because the most commonly used drug tests often yield false negatives for Rohypnol, experts recommend use of gas chromatography-mass spectrometry analysis.[1][4][22]


In one 2002 survey of 53 women who used Rohypnol recreationally, 10% said they were physically or sexually assaulted while under its influence.[4] If enough of the drug is taken, a person may experience a state of automatism or dissociation. After the drug wears off, users may find themselves unable to remember what happened while under its influence (anterograde amnesia), and feeling woozy, hung-over, confused, dizzy, sluggish and uncoordinated, often with an upset stomach. They may also have some difficulty moving their limbs normally.[1][4][22]

Rohypnol is believed to be commonly used in DFSA in the United States, the United Kingdom, and throughout Europe, Asia and South America.[23] Although Rohypnol's use in DFSA has been covered extensively in the news media, researchers disagree about how common such use actually is. Law enforcement manuals describe it as one of the drugs most commonly implicated in DFSA,[1] but according to research conducted by Michael Robertson from the San Diego Medical Examiner's office and Dr. Mahmoud El Sohly of El Sohly Laboratories, test results indicated that flunitrazepam was only used in around 1% of reported date rapes according to Robertson and 0.33% according to urine lab tests done by El Sohly, of the rape-kits that actually get tested in time. Despite having a long half-life (18–28 hours) an incorrect belief is that Rohypnol is undetectable 12 hours after administration which may result in victims failing to get a blood or urine test the following day.


Gamma-hydroxybutyrate (GHB) is a central nervous system depressant. It has no odor, tastes salty,[24] but is detectable when mixed in a drink.

GHB is used recreationally to stimulate euphoria and hallucinations, to increase sociability, to promote libido and lower inhibitions.[25] It is sold under names such as Liquid E and Liquid X. It is usually taken orally, by the capful or teaspoon.[26]

From 1996 to 1999, 22 reports of GHB being used in DFSA were made to the United States Drug Enforcement Administration. A 26-month study of 1,179 urine samples from suspected DFSAs across the United States found 4% positive for GHB.[25] The National Drug Intelligence Center (NDIC) says that in the United States GHB had 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.[25][27] GHB is only detectable in urine for six to twelve hours after ingestion.[27]

Media coverage

There were three stories in the media about Rohypnol in 1993, 25 in 1994 and 854 in 1996. In early 1996 Newsweek magazine published "Roofies: The date-rape drug" which ended with the line "Don't take your eyes off your drink." That summer, researchers say all major American urban and regional newspapers covered date rape drugs, with headlines such as "Crackdown sought on date rape drug" (Los Angeles Times), "Drug zaps memory of rape victims" (San Francisco Chronicle) and "Slow DEA Action Gives Women No Relief from the Threat of New Date-Rape Drug" (Detroit News). Date rape drugs were also covered in media aimed at young women such as Seventeen and Sassy magazines. In 1997 and 1998, the date rape drug story received extensive coverage on CNN, ABC's 20/20 and Primetime Live, the Oprah Winfrey Show, and the fictitious TV shows Beverly Hills 90210 and South Park. Women were instructed to never drink from punch bowls, never leave a drink unattended, try no new drinks, drink nothing with an unusual taste or appearance, take their own drinks to parties, and drink nothing opened by another person.

News media has been criticized for overstating the DFSA threat, for providing "how to" material for potential date rapists and for advocating "grossly excessive protective measures for women, particularly in coverage between 1996 and 1998.[28][29] Law enforcement representatives and feminists have also been criticized for supporting the overstatements for their own purposes.[30]

Some scholars claim that this extensive coverage has created or amplified a moral panic[31] rooted in societal anxieties about rape, hedonism and the increased freedoms of women in modern culture. Researchers say it has given a powerful added incentive for the suppression of party drugs,[29] has inappropriately undermined the long-established argument that recreational drug use is purely a consensual and victimless crime. By shining a spotlight on premeditated criminal behavior, has relieved the culture from having to explore and evaluate more nuanced forms of male sexual aggression towards people, such as those displayed in date rapes that were not facilitated by the surreptitious administration of drugs.[32]

For similar moral panics around social tensions manifesting via discussion of drugs and sex crime, researchers point to the opium scare of the late 19th century, in which "sinister Chinese" were said to use opium to coerce white women into sexual slavery. Similarly, in the Progressive Era, a persistent urban legend told of white middle-class women being surreptitiously drugged, abducted and sold into sexual slavery to Latin American brothels.[33][34] This analysis doesn't contradict instances when date rape drugs are used or sexual trafficking occurs; its focus is on actual prevalence of certain crimes relative to media coverage of it. As such the media coverage does not imply a racially implicated victim, but the racial profiling of perpetrators comes up with Islamic Yemen to influence media coverage in the UK and abroad.[35]

See also


  1. 1 2 3 4 Lyman, Michael D. (2006). Practical drug enforcement (3rd ed.). Boca Raton, Fla.: CRC. p. 70. ISBN 0849398088.
  2. 1 2 Alcohol Is Most Common 'Date Rape' Drug. Retrieved on June 1, 2011.
  3. Elsohly, M. A.; Salamone, S. J. (1999). "Prevalence of Drugs Used in Cases of Alleged Sexual Assault". Journal of Analytical Toxicology. 23 (3): 141–6. doi:10.1093/jat/23.3.141. PMID 10369321.
  4. 1 2 3 4 Miller, Richard Lawrence (2002). Drugs of abuse: a reference guide to their history and use. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press. p. 168. ISBN 0313318077.
  5. Alcohol, not drugs, poses biggest date rape risk – health – January 7, 2006. New Scientist (2006-01-07). Retrieved on June 1, 2011.
  6. Toxicological findings in cases of alleged drug-facilitated sexual assault in the United Kingdom over a 3-year period – Journal of Clinical Forensic Medicine, Volume 12, Issue 4, August 2005, Pages 175–186
  7. Quigley, P.; Lynch, D. M.; Little, M.; Murray, L.; Lynch, A. M.; O'Halloran, S. J. (2009). "Prospective study of 101 patients with suspected drink spiking". Emergency Medicine Australasia. 21 (3): 222–228. doi:10.1111/j.1742-6723.2009.01185.x. PMID 19527282.
  8. "Scopolamine: Colombia's Date Rape Drug". Retrieved 9 April 2016.
  9. 1 2 Christopher P. Holstege; et al. (eds.). Criminal poisoning: clinical and forensic perspectives. Sudbury, Mass.: Jones and Bartlett Publishers. p. 232. ISBN 0763744638.
  10. 1 2 Pyrek, Kelly (2006). Forensic nursing. Boca Raton: Taylor & Francis. p. 173. ISBN 084933540X.
  11. Smith, Merril D., ed. (2004). Encyclopedia of rape (1. publ. ed.). Westport, Conn. [u.a.]: Greenwood Press. p. 226. ISBN 0313326878.
  12. Date Rape. (2000-03-20). Retrieved on June 1, 2011.
  13. 1 2 3 4 Abbey, A (2002). "Alcohol-related sexual assault: A common problem among college students" (PDF). Journal of Studies on Alcohol. 63 (2): 118–128. PMC 4484270Freely accessible. PMID 12022717.
  14. Blade, special report. "The Making of an Epidemic", p. 5. October 10, 1993
  15. Nicholson, M.E. (1998). "Trends in alcohol-related campus violence: Implications for prevention". Journal of Alcohol and Drug Education. 43 (3): 34–52.
  16. 1 2 "Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services". Archived from the original on January 16, 2006. Retrieved 2011-02-26.
  17. "The Diamondback - Students encounter dangerous date-rape drug". Retrieved 9 April 2016.
  18. Burgess, edited by Robert R. Hazelwood, Ann Wolbert (2009). Practical aspects of rape investigation: a multidisciplinary approach (4th ed.). Boca Raton: CRC Press. p. 446. ISBN 1420065041.
  19. Goldberg, Raymond (2006). Drugs across the spectrum (5th ed.). Belmont, CA: Thomson/Wadsworth. p. 195. ISBN 0495013455.
  20. ElSohly, Mahmoud A.; Lee, Luen F.; Holzhauer, Lynn B.; Salamone, Salvatore J. (2001). "Analysis of urine samples in cases of alleged sexual assault case history". Benzodiazepines and GHB: 127–144.
  21. "Watch out for Date Rape Drugs" (PDF). Michigan Department of Community Health. Retrieved March 2, 2010.
  22. 1 2 John O. Savino; Brent E. Turvey (2011). Rape investigation handbook (2nd ed.). Waltham, MA: Academic Press. pp. 338–9. ISBN 0123860296.
  23. Burgess, edited by Robert R. Hazelwood, Ann Wolbert (2009). Practical aspects of rape investigation: a multidisciplinary approach (4th ed.). Boca Raton: CRC Press. pp. 339–446. ISBN 1420065041.
  24. Abadinsky, Howard. Drug use and abuse: a comprehensive introduction (7th ed.). Australia: Wadsworth Cengage Learning. p. 169. ISBN 0495809918.
  25. 1 2 3 Miller, Richard Lawrence (2002). Drugs of abuse: a reference guide to their history and use. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press. p. 183. ISBN 0313318077.
  26. Lyman, Michael D. (2006). Practical drug enforcement (3rd ed.). Boca Raton, Fla.: CRC. pp. 72–75. ISBN 0849398088.
  27. 1 2 Pyrek, Kelly (2006). Forensic nursing. Boca Raton: Taylor & Francis. pp. 173–176. ISBN 084933540X.
  28. Jenkins, Philip (1999). Synthetic panics: the symbolic politics of designer drugs. New York, NY [u.a.]: New York University Press. pp. 20 and 161–182. ISBN 0814742440.
  29. 1 2 Goode, Erich; Ben-Yehuda, Nachman (2009). Moral panics: the social construction of deviance (2nd ed.). Chichester, U.K.: Wiley-Blackwell. p. 217. ISBN 1405189347.
  30. Christine Shearer-Cremean, ed. (2004). Survivor rhetoric: negotiations and narrativity in abused women's language. Toronto [u.a.]: Univ. of Toronto Press. p. 107. ISBN 0802089739.
  31. Webber, Craig (2009). Psychology & crime. London: Sage. p. 67. ISBN 1412919428.
  32. Jenkins, Philip (1999). Synthetic panics: the symbolic politics of designer drugs. New York, NY [u.a.]: New York University Press. pp. 161–182. ISBN 0814742440.
  33. Jenkins, Philip (1999). Synthetic panics: the symbolic politics of designer drugs. New York, NY [u.a.]: New York University Press. p. 176. ISBN 0814742440.
  34. Dubinsky, Karen (1993). Improper advances: rape and heterosexual conflict in Ontario, 1880-1929. Chicago u.a.: Univ. of Chicago Press. p. 46. ISBN 0226167534.
  35. "Rotherham sex abuse scandal: 1,400 children exploited by Asian gangs while authorities turned a blind eye". 26 August 2014. Retrieved 9 April 2016.

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