Date rape concerns
Dear Dr. Jeff: I've heard about a pill you can take to make the effects of alcohol stronger. I believe it's called "roche" (pronounced "row-shay"), and can get you really drunk off of just one beer. What is it anyway? D.K.
Dear D.K.: I believe you're referring to a drug called Rohypnol, aka "Roche", "Roofies", "Roachies", etc., which is legally manufactured by the pharmaceutical company Hoffmann-Roche. In Europe, Rohypnol is used as a surgical anesthetic. In this country, it has no legal use, and shows up most often as one of the "date rape drugs", substances used secretly to sedate and sexually assault women and men.
Rohypnol is cheap and powerful. It comes as a white, dime-sized pill that dissolves quickly in alcoholic beverages and soft drinks. It is tasteless and odorless, but if legally manufactured by Hoffmann-Roche, will turn pale liquids blue. Within 5 - 20 minutes, Rohypnol causes weakness, somnolence, confusion and amnesia. These effects last four to six hours. Traces of the drug remain detectable in urine for up to 72 hours.
Gamma Hydroxybutyrate ("GHB") is also being slipped into drinks, and has earned the nickname "Easy Lay". It comes as a clear liquid (odorless, but somewhat salty), or a white powder or tablet. At lower "recreational" doses, GHB causes euphoria, exaggerated self-confidence and disinhibition. At higher doses, GHB causes drowsiness, physical collapse and amnesia. GHB can be particularly dangerous when taken with alcohol, and overdose may come quickly, unpredictably, and sometimes fatally. GHB's effects begin 10 to 20 minutes after ingestion, and typically last up to 4 hours. Traces remain detectable in urine only for 12 hours.
Ketamine (aka "Special K", "Kit Kat" or "Super C") is a surgical anesthetic used legally in this country for humans and animals. At lower doses, it causes inattention, impaired judgement, and a PCP ("Angel Dust")-like dissociative state (out-of-body or near-death experience.) At higher doses, it causes frank hallucinations, disorientation, inability to communicate and to move, loss of consciousness and amnesia. The effects of ketamine begin very quickly, and can last up to 12 hours. Ketamine usually leaves you with a horrific and long-drawn hangover.
All of these date-rape drugs are marketed and sold on-line. You may have read last week that the Justice Department just busted a large web-based ring of GHB manufacturers and dealers.
Judging by frequency of abuse, though, alcohol is still the sexual predator's drug of choice. A recent study found that drinking played a central role in over 70,000 reported cases of campus date rape in one year. Other studies have shown that up to 90% of reported sexual assaults on college campuses involve the use or abuse of alcohol.
Drinking heavily can put you at risk for a variety of unhealthy and unsafe outcomes. Getting drunk might allow you to "get a little wild," but that might also involve increased risk-taking and carelessness. Some of those "inhibitions" that get pushed aside are self-protective and might have been well thought out. Many studies have shown that heavy drinking often leads to unplanned and unprotected sex. Any condom use, never mind proper condom use, is much less likely in this kind of scenario.
So, where does this all leave us? It means we all need to do our part to protect ourselves and our friends. Don't go alone to parties. Don't accept any drink you haven't seen poured, and don't leave your drink uncovered or unattended. Don't share or exchange drinks. If you're feeling very intoxicated after only one or two drinks, get help, and make sure someone's watching out for you.
If you're going to drink, drink safely and responsibly. Pace yourself, and know your limits. Don't drink alone, and whatever you do, don't ever drink and drive.
To your health and safety!
Jeff Benson, M.D.