New `Mickey Finns' that lead to rape

They are being dubbed the Mickey Finns of the Nineties. New synthetic drugs slipped into women's drinks are blamed for at least a dozen rapes in the Miami area.

The drugs, said to be coming illegally from South America, are available on Miami's trendy South Beach district for between $2 and $5 a pill, police say. Not only do they remove the consumer's inhibitions when mixed with alcohol but they cause short-term amnesia, making arrests rare.

Concerned by abuse of their product, the manufacturer of one of the drugs, Hoffman-La Roche, says it will launch a campaign in Florida with the slogan: "When you drink, watch it!" Adverts will warn women not to leave drinks unattended while they dance or go to the toilet.

On 22 February this year, a 30-year-old woman was raped by two men in a car in the car park of a night club in the Florida town of Boca Raton. Police said the woman could remember little, but blood tests revealed she ingested GHB (gamma hydroxy butyrate), a synthetic weight-loss drug that can cause memory loss. After a club employee identified the car, police found plastic bottles of GHB in the vehicle's glove compartment and charged two men with rape.

The best-known of the new Mickey Finns, however, is Rohypnol, a strong sleeping tablet produced by Hoffman-La Roche, say Florida police. It has been illegal in the US since March, but is said to be widely available in other countries.

South American dealers call the tablets "roofies" or "roaches" and say they are many times stronger than Valium. Florida prosecutors are pressing to define the drug legally as "dangerous" and of no medical benefit. They describe how "spiked" drinks had left victims incapacitated within minutes, leaving them unable to fight off their attackers and hardly able to remember what happened.

Hoffman-La Roche, while launching the campaign to prevent Rohypnol's abuse, insists it is of benefit to many people with insomnia.