Single bars have never been safe territory for the lone female. There are the unwelcome advancers, the luring losers, and the not-so-gentlemanly gentlemen too eager to buy you another round. It’s no wonder a woman usually chooses to enter a saloon with others by her side. Not that drink drugging is anything new. The original was chloral hydrate, used during the late 1800s and early 1900s by Mickey Finn, a bartender and manager who drugged his patrons’ drinks and later robbed them. His crime became so notorious that “slipping a mickie” soon became synonymous with lacing a drink with a drug and giving it to unsuspecting persons in order to incapacitate them.
Incapacitation and ease of use is exactly what makes the current breed of so-called “date-rape drugs” so popular. The three main drugs used for drug-facilitated sexual assault (including, but not limited to, rape) are benzodiazepines like flunitrazepam (Rohypnol, or roofies), gama-hydroxyy butarate (GHB), and Ketamine.
How often these drugs are used in cases of sexual assault is hard to estimate. The Drug Abuse Warning Network estimates that of the approximately two million drug-related emergency room visits, 3,034 of them were attributed to one of the three classic date rape drugs. A 2006 study done at the University of Chicago sampled four states and found that almost 62 percent of sexual assaults were drug related, which includes recreational drugs. Five percent of these victims were given one of the classic date rape drugs, most of them (4 percent) without their knowledge. Based on this, it appears that the majority of drug use was voluntary.
These numbers may skew the reality, however. Cases of sexual assault are notoriously unreported. Being unable to remember what happened the evening before can further confound a woman’s choice or ability to report a suspected crime. The number of situations where a woman averted drugging is unknown. Last year, two San Francisco bartenders caught a forty-three-year old man drugging his date’s drink; luckily, he was arrested. Chances are other men have not been.
Alcohol is still the intoxicant most widely used in cases involving sexual assault, but date rape drugs are particularly scary because victims are usually unaware they are taking them. All three are colorless, odorless, tasteless, and can dissolve in a drink. GHB comes in liquid, powder, or pill form; Rohypnol comes in a pill (manufactured by Roche), and Ketamine is a white powder. Though it can be nearly impossible to tell if a drink you have has been drugged, there are a few things you can do to stay on alert and protect yourself.
Symptoms to look for:
Rohypnol is illegal in the U.S., but is used in Mexico and Europe as a sleep aid and an anesthetic. The symptoms follow from these two indications: amnesia or inability to remember what happened while drugged, sleepiness, muscle relaxation, loss of muscle control, feeling drunker than you should be, nausea, problems talking, difficulty with motor movements, confusion, and vision problems.
GHB is legal in the U.S. and is used to treat sleeping disorders. It can make you feel relaxed, drowsy, dizzy, nauseous, can cause you to black out, have amnesia, have problems breathing, and can cause you to sweat or vomit.
Ketamine is an anesthetic used in veterinary medicine. It can cause hallucinations, lost sense of time, distorted thoughts and feelings, loss of motor control, problems breathing, convulsions, vomiting, and memory problems.
How to protect yourself
- Don’t accept drinks from other people; watch them being made.
- Keep your drink by your side, even when going to the bathroom. Ask your friends to watch your drink if you step away from it.
- Don’t share drinks with people you don’t trust.
- Discard your drink if it looks or tastes strange. GHB sometimes tastes salty; other drugs may not dissolve or cause a drink to bubble.
- As always, it’s a good idea to have a non-drinking friend with you to act as an extra set of eyes and ears.
- If you suspect something is amiss, go with your gut. Call a friend, make an excuse to leave the date/situation, discard your drink.
- Remember that the majority of time, an assailant is an acquaintance or someone you know, not a stranger.
- If you think you’ve been drugged, it’s important go to the police or a hospital right away. They’ll want to test your urine to check for the drugs.
Drugging someone’s drink is a pretty serious crime, as it should be. According to the Drug-Induced Rape Prevention and Punishment Act of 1996, there are “criminal penalties of up to twenty years imprisonment for any person who distributes a controlled substance, such as Rohypnol, to a person with the intent to commit a crime of violence, including rape.” Keeping on the lookout for yourself and your friends, whether drunk or otherwise intoxicated, is the best way to prevent the bar scene from becoming a bad one.