Rohypnol

Generic name: flunitrazepam
Brand Names: Rohypnol, others; not available legally in U.S. but is available in other countries
Common or street names: forget me drug, roches, roofies, ruffles; other names include date rape drug, la roche, R2, rib, roach, roofenol, rope, rophies, the forget pill, getting roached, lunch money drug, Mexican Valium, pingus, Reynolds, Robutal, wolfies.

What is Rohypnol?

Rohypnol is an intermediate-acting benzodiazepine with general properties similar to those of Valium (diazepam). It is used in the short-term treatment of insomnia, as a pre-medication in surgical procedures and for inducing anaesthesia.

Like other benzodiazepines (such as Valium, Librium and Xanax), Rohypnol's effects include sedation, muscle relaxation, reduction in anxiety, and prevention of convulsions. However, Rohypnol's sedative effects are approximately 7 to 10 times stronger than Valium. The effects of Rohypnol appear 15 to 20 minutes after administration and last approximately four to six hours. Some residual effects can be found 12 hours or more after administration.

Since the 1990s Rohypnol has been used illegally to lessen the depression caused by the abuse of stimulants, such as cocaine and methamphetamine, and also as an aid for sexual assault. The so-called “date-rape drug” was placed unknowingly in the drinks of victims, often at a bar or party (“club drug”). Due to the strong amnesia produced by the drug, victims would have limited or no recollection of the assault.

Important information

Rohypnol is not approved for medical use or manufactured in the United States and is not available legally. However, it is legally prescribed in over 60 other countries and is widely available in Mexico, Colombia, and Europe where it is used for the treatment of insomnia and as a pre-anesthetic. Therefore, it was placed into Schedule IV of the Controlled Substances Act in 1984 due to international treaty obligations and remains under that classification. Schedule IV drugs are considered to have a lower abuse potential but can lead to physical or psychological dependence. The penalties associated with the possession, trafficking, and distribution of Rohypnol are equivalent to those of a Schedule I substance (Schedule I substances include heroin, marijuana, and MDMA.

Rohypnol causes partial amnesia; individuals are unable to remember certain events that they experience while under the influence of the drug. This effect is particularly dangerous when Rohypnol is used to aid in the commission of sexual assault; victims may not be able to clearly recall the assault, the assailant, or the events surrounding the assault.

Rohypnol use in the US, according to the 2010 Monitoring the Future Survey, has increased by 0.2 percent since 2009. However, use has been relatively stable from 1999 to 2010, with yearly use estimates ranging from 0.6 to 0.9 percent of 8th to 12th grade respondents.

It is difficult to estimate the number of Rohypnol-facilitated rapes in the United States. Very often, biological samples are taken from the victim at a time when the effects of the drug have already passed and only residual amounts remain in the body fluids. These residual amounts are difficult, if not impossible, to detect using standard screening assays available in the United States. If Rohypnol exposure is to be detected at all, urine samples need to be collected within 72 hours and subjected to sensitive analytical tests. The problem is compounded by the onset of amnesia after ingestion of the drug, which causes the victim to be uncertain about the facts surrounding the rape. This uncertainty may lead to critical delays or even reluctance to report the rape and to provide appropriate biological samples for toxicology testing.

Rohypnol, previously available as a white tablet that dissolved without color or taste, is now formulated as a caplet that is light green with a blue core. The manufacturer instituted this change to help identify tampered drinks at clubs. When dissolved in clear liquids the blue core will turn the clear liquid to blue. However, when dissolved in darker-colored liquids, the blue dye may not be noticeable. Generic versions of Rohypnol may not contain the blue dye.

Abuse Potential

While Rohypnol has become widely known for its use as a date-rape drug, it is abused more frequently for other reasons. It is abused by high school students, college students, street gang members, rave party attendees, and heroin and cocaine abusers to produce profound intoxication, boost the high of heroin, and modulate the effects of cocaine.

Teenagers and young males age 13 to 30 have been noted as the primary abusers of Rohypnol. Rohypnol is usually consumed orally, and is often combined with alcohol. It may also be abused by crushing tablets and snorting the powder, or by dissolving prior to injection. Rohypnol abuse causes a number of adverse effects, including drowsiness, dizziness, loss of motor control, lack of coordination, slurred speech, confusion, and gastrointestinal disturbances, lasting 12 or more hours. Higher doses may produce respiratory depression.

Chronic use of Rohypnol can result in physical dependence and the appearance of a withdrawal syndrome when the drug is discontinued. Rohypnol impairs cognitive and psychomotor functions affecting reaction time and driving skill. The use of this drug in combination with alcohol is a particular concern as both central nervous system depressants potentiate each other's toxicity. Injection of any illegal drug puts the user at risk of contracting HIV (human immunodeficiency virus), hepatitis B and C, and other blood-borne illnesses.

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Last updated: 2014-05-18

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