Women's drinks spiked with date-rape drug

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The Independent Online
A "Date-Rape" drug is being used in Britain that can induce a trance-like state in which a woman is unable to resist unwanted sexual advances.

The drug, Rohypnol, is available on private prescription in the UK for back pain and insomnia and is also used as a pre-surgery anaesthetic. It is 10 times more powerful than Valium.

But if the drug is taken unsupervised, particularly in combination with social drugs or alcohol, it has the more sinister effect of making the victim vulnerable to rape.

"I have had reports of it being misused in this country and used as a date-rape drug. There have been police seizures of it in Scotland. Rohypnol is here," said David Macauley of the Glasgow-based campaign group Scotland Against Drugs.

"If you had to compose the requirements for a date-rape drug then Rohypnol is as close as you can get," he said.

"It can work within 20 minutes... The plausible scenario is that a woman takes Rohypnol unsuspectingly and is forced to have sex with a man while in a kind of trance. When she wakes up she knows little or nothing about it."

Last week, a report by a woman that her drink was spiked with an unknown substance in Soho, central London, prompted Scotland Yard to issue a warning to women to beware of the possibility that strangers may try to spike their drinks.

A spokeswoman for the Metropolitan Police said: "We are aware of reports of Rohypnol's use in the United States. But we have no evidence of any similar misuse of the drug in London."

The woman said she was bought a drink by a man with a Scottish accent. She told police the last thing she remembered before waking up at home was that she felt faint half an hour after taking the drink.

Mr Macauley said: "It would [be] very hard to prove any case of the drug being used. It goes through the system extremely quickly so by the time any toxicology tests could be done it's unlikely there would be any traces in the bloodstream."

Scotland Against Drugs, a part-government, part-private industry-funded organisation, is seeking to raise awareness among young people of the dangers presented by Rohypnol and another commonly abused anaesthetic, Kitamine, which was identified as a "date-rape" pill in the US in 1979.

Women looking to buy ecstasy in Scottish night-clubs and pubs have been deliberately sold Kitamine instead, said Dr Macauley.

Rohypnol is available on prescription in 64 countries but is banned in the United States where it has gained widespread notoriety as a the "date-rape pill".

So well-known are its properties that it featured in an episode of the hit hospital series ER, screened in the UK last week, in which a nurse was raped after she was given the drug unwittingly.

Florida has been the centre of the US battle over the drug, where a "roofie", as a tablet of Rohypnol is called, costs as little as $1.50. The Miami Poison Unit has 100 recorded cases of rape where Rohypnol was used. It is suspected in a further 200 cases.

The tablets are used with alcohol, for coming off a cocaine high, and as a substitute for heroin, and are said to be popular in schools as a party drug.

In March Florida introduced a bill making Rohypnol an illegal substance on a par with heroin, with life sentences for major traffickers.

Since 1995, the US Drug Enforcement Administration has seized 225,000 doses of the drug in Florida.

Prosecutors say it is difficult bringing cases because victims "don't remember a thing".

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