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Rape and Drugs: What You Need to Know
by Nina Aly Elshiekh

For years, counselors have been dealing with drug-related rape, particularly crimes involving alcohol. Although a number of substances have been used by rapists, two drugs have recently taken the spotlight: Gamma hydroxybutryate (GHB), a central nervous system depressant used for treatment of narcolepsy and alcoholism, and Rohypnol (flunitrazepam), a medication prescribed for severe and debilitating sleep disorders. Rohypnol is not available in the U.S., but is being sold on the streets as La Rocha, Roachies, or Roofies.
Rohypnol isn't the only drug used to take advantage of others, GHB, a hypnotic drug, is being used like Rohypnol and has similar effects. GHB makes people lose inhibitions and, although victims remember what happened to them and are conscious, they don't want to stop whatever they are doing. They are awake, but reportedly, have no ability to fight off their desires. With a sufficient dose, the victim can fall asleep or find herself in a state of unmovable helplessness. This can be very unpleasant, because the brain is functioning quite rapidly but the victim has little control over what she can do physically.
Within 15 to 60 minutes of ingestion of 1/2 to 3 teaspoons of GHB dissolved in a drink, the victim may experience one or more of the following symptoms: vomitting, drowsiness, and/or vertigo, loss of consciousness, irregular and depressed respiration, uncontrolled movements, tremors or seizure-like activity, slowed heart beat, hypotension, and/or respiratory arrest.
The severity and duration of symptoms appear to depend on the dose of GHB and/or the presence of other substances, such as alcohol. GHB acts synergetically with alcohol to produce the symptoms listed above. Recovery from exposure occurs with 2 to 96 hours. Ingestion of two milligrams of the drug produces a strong sedating effect which begins within 30 minutes and can last up to 8 hours.
When combined with alcohol, Rohypnol, also known as the "rape drug," can cause impaired ability to remember details and in large doses, can be fatal. If you experience dizziness, confusion, or other sudden and unexpected symptoms after drinking a beverage, call a family member or friend, the police, or a doctor.
There are a number of precautions you can take to protect yourself from becoming a victim. Don't leave your drinks unattended and don't take drinks from anyone you don't know. At clubs, accept drinks only from bartenders or your server. Don't accept drinks from open containers at parties. Be aware of the behavior of your friends. If anyone appears especially inebriated for the amount of alcohol they have consumed, get medical attention and try to keep a sample of their beverage for testing.
If you do become a victim of this or other drugs used for rape, and you choose to report the assault, do not shower, bathe, douche, change clothes or straighten up the area until medical and legal evidence has been collected. Call the police then seek medical attention at a hospital, clinic, or from your doctor for any internal or external injuries and tests for pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. Also seek sexual assault support services from your local providers. Request a urine test for the presence of sedating substances as quickly as possible (the drug may be found in your urine for up to 72 hours, depending on the dose and your metabolism).
The maker of the drug has made available a drug testing service, free of charge, for cases of sexual assault. The tests are handled by an independent approved laboratory that follows appropriate chain-of-custody procedures so that the findings are admissible in court. Be aware that these tests also screen for the presence of other benzodiazepines (the family of drugs to which Rohypnol belongs) as well as marijuana, cocaine, some opiates, and barbituates. Test results are returned to the rape crisis center that submitted the sample, so the center can maintain strict confidentiality about the survivor's identity.
There are a number of excellent support services available to survivors in the Triangle area. The Orange County Rape Crisis Center offers free support services to survivors of sexual assault. They can be reached at 919-967-7273. Rape Crisis of Durham also offers 24-hour free and confidential support to survivors of sexual assault and incest. Call them at 919-688-2883. Survivors can also call a toll-free rape crisis hotline at 1-800-656-4673.