Police fear `date-rape drug' danger for women

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The Independent Online
A drug which induces a carefree state leaving women unable to resist unwanted sexual advances, has been blamed for dozens of date rapes in America. Alexandra Williams says police are investigating fears that the trend has reached Britain.

"Slip a 2mg dose in one beer and a woman will be put flat on her back in a moaning state of carnal bliss, to waken with no memories of the previous night."

These are the instructions being circulated on the Internet on how to use Rohypnol and the reason why the drug, nicknamed Roofie, has been described as the perfect designer date-rape drug. Tasteless and odourless, the tiny purple tablet can be slipped into a drink and within 10 minutes the victim will feel drunk and dizzy and at the mercy of their attacker.

Rohypnol is a tranquilliser 10 times stronger than Valium and its effects last for 10 hours. Inhibitions are lost and the taker is left with little memory of the experience. Flashbacks of the assault usually occur days later.

The likelihood of charging the alleged rapist, let alone finding him guilty are virtually nil. It takes just four hours for all traces of the drug to leave the bloodstream and it cannot be detected in urine after 72 hours.

Rohypnol's medical name is flunitrazepam and is prescribed for severe back pain or insomnia. The drug, manufactured by Hoffman-LaRoche since 1975, is not on the NHS list of prescribed drugs but is easily obtained from private clinics. More than 1 million patients in 80 countries take Rohypnol every day and the usual dosage is half to one milligramme.

The drug was banned in America in March last year after women, especially on college campuses, reported that they had been raped. Recently the drug has been found on the black market in this country, particularly in Scotland. Although, so far, complainants have been women, anti-drug campaigners fear the muscle relaxant drug may attract paedophiles and gay rapists.

Chief Superintendent Peter Gammon, vice-president of the Police Superintendents' Association, said: "We don't want to be alarmist but ... Once people find it's easy to obtain and administer, then more people may drug women to get sexual favours."

Sergeant Clive Driscoll, of Scotland Yard's Crime Policy Unit, who has been investigating the drug for six months, is meeting a number of scientists next week to discuss the problem. "We wish people to be more aware," he said.

Hoffman-LaRoche, which will be at the meeting, is looking to reformulate the drug to prevent its misuse. "We find it very disturbing that a criminal might be using a legitimate medical therapy to sexually assault women," said spokeswomen Michelle Stanley.

The company has developed a Rohypnol tablet that dissolves more slowly and releases a blue colour. The shape and colour of the tablet have also been changed. The new form of the drug is not yet on the market.

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