£5 drug used in 'date rape' to be outlawed by summer

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The Independent Online

A recreational drug that has been used to spike women's drinks in so-called date rapes cases is to be banned, the Home Office said yesterday. GHB, also known as liquid ecstasy, GBH (grievous bodily harm), Blue, and Heaven, is to be outlawed amid growing concerns that it is a health risk to people who take it and has been used by sex attackers.

Gamma hydroxybutyric acid (GHB) is expected to be made a class C drug by next summer. People caught in possession could face two years in jail, and suppliers could be sent to prison for up to five years.

The move follows a recommendation to the Home Office by the Advisory Council on Misuse of Drugs. Purchase of GHB is legal and users take it in small quantities as a "party drug" to increase the effects of alcohol and as an aphrodisiac. It is supposed to be illegal to sell because it is classified as a medicine but it can be bought easily for as little as £5 over the internet or for about £15 in sex shops. The drug advisory body has looked at the effects of the drug several times in recent years and found little evidence of widespread misuse of GHB.

But there is concern that it could cause health problems, especially when mixed with alcohol. Ministers have said that misuse of the drug, an anaesthetic, can kill.

There are also fears that it is being used in the increasing number of rape cases in which mostly women are drugged in bars and clubs. GHB is believed to be increasingly popular with would-be rapists who pour it into the drinks of unsuspecting victims. The women can be almost comatose for hours and are left with only a confused recollection of what happened during an attack. Traces of the colourless and odourless substance are very difficult to detect and disappear in the victim's bloodstream after a few hours.

A Home Office report this year found drug rapists were far more likely to be friends or colleagues than strangers. The study included interviews with 123 victims and found 70 per cent said they had been attacked by someone they knew. Campaigners say hundreds of women are raped each year after their drink or food is spiked with drugs such as Rohypnol and, in a smaller number of cases, GHB.

In August, Westminster council in London took the unusual step of warning women not to accept drinks from men in nightclubs after a string of sex attacks.

The move was prompted by nine claims of attacks in the area. Three of the victims say they were taken back to the attacker's home and assaulted, while one was attacked in a nightspot. Several of the others had trouble recollecting where the assault took place.

The sexual offences section of Scotland Yard's special investigations unit has recorded 108 possible drug-rape offences in London since November last year, when it began monitoring cases.

Figures from the Drug Rape Trust show that 780 women reported attacks last year, when the charity was founded. The figures for this year are up 50 per cent.

The danger of date-rape drugs is being taken so seriously that scientists working for the Department of Trade and Industry have developed a cocktail stirrer that will detect if a drink has been spiked with a substance such as GHB.