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Rohypnol is a drug which is a benzodiazepine derivative. It has powerful sedative, anxiolytic, and skeletal muscle relaxant properties. The drug is sometimes abused as a date rape drug. Like other benzodiazepines, rohypnol's pharmacological effects include sedation, muscle relaxation, reduction in anxiety, and prevention of convulsions.
However, rohypnol's sedative effects are approximately 7 to 10 times more potent than diazepam. The effects of rohypnol appear approximately 15 to 20 minutes after oral administration, and last for approximately four to six hours. Some residual effects can persist up to 12 hours or more after administration.
In the United States, the drug has not been approved by the Food and Drug Administration for medical use, and is considered to be an illegal drug.
Drug-facilitated sexual assault
Rohypnol is known to induce anterograde amnesia in sufficient doses; individuals are unable to remember certain events that they experienced 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.
It is difficult to estimate just how many rohypnol-facilitated rapes have occurred in the past. 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, and sometimes impossible, to detect using standard screening assays.
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 provide appropriate biological samples for testing. If a person suspects that he or she is the victim of a rohypnol-facilitated rape, he or she should get laboratory testing for rohypnol as soon as possible.
It must be noted that an inability to remember events, including sexual encounters, is not conclusive evidence of having consumed a drugged drink: Drunkenness itself causes blackouts, sleepiness, and a reduction in inhibitions. Only a timely screening for rohypnol can demonstrate its use. It has been shown that alcohol alone is the substance used in the vast majority of cases of "date-rape".
Although rohypnol has become widely known in USA for its use as a date-rape drug, it is used more frequently as a recreational drug. It is used by high school and college students, rave party attendees, and heroin and cocaine users (who call a dose of rohypnol a "roofie") for recreational purposes, including:
- To produce profound intoxication (Kurt Cobain overdosed on a mixture of rohypnol and champagne several weeks before his death).
- To boost the high produced by heroin, or ease the anxiety and/or sleeplessness of withdrawal.
- To counteract the side effects of stimulants (e.g. insomnia, paranoia, jitteriness).
- To "soften" the so-called "crash" which follows heavy usage of stimulants, such as cocaine or methamphetamine.
- To improve sex drive and appetite.
Rohypnol is usually consumed orally, and is often combined with alcohol. It is also occasionally insufflated (i.e. tablets are crushed into powder and snorted). In some European countries, there was an alcohol solution of rohypnol (Darkene), taken by injection, with very strong effects.
Rohypnol is considered to be one of the most addictive of the benzodiazepines, along with clonazepam, midazolam, triazolam, temazepam, lorazepam, nimetazepam and alprazolam. Its use causes several notable side effects, including:
- Loss of motor control
- Lack of coordination
- Slurred speech
- Gastrointestinal disturbances, lasting 12 or more hours
- Respiratory depression in higher doses
Long-term use of rohypnol can result in psychological and physical dependence and the appearance of withdrawal symptoms 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 potentiates these side effects, and can lead to toxicity.