For most people, mention of the drug “Rohypnol” brings to mind the urban legend-inspired thoughts of date rape – slipping the drug into someone else’s drink in order to take sexual advantage of them. In actuality, Rohypnol is very rarely a factor in reported rapes. But this does not mean that it is not a potentially-dangerous drug of abuse that can cause serious mental and physical harm to users. Let’s take a look at Rohypnol – the misunderstood drug threat.
First Things First – What Is Rohypnol?
Rohypnol – properly known as flunitrazepam – is an intermediate-acting medication of the benzodiazepine class. It is approximately 10 times stronger than Valium, another benzodiazepine tranquilizer. Originally discovered in 1962, it was first made available to the public in 1974. It has never been marketed or legally sold in the United States and is currently classified as a Schedule IV drug . Possession of Rohypnol is punishable by a fine and three years in prison, while importation or distribution carries a 20-year prison term. Rohypnol is nonetheless a popular and well-known drug abuse, because it IS still used over 50 countries, including Colombia, Mexico, India, Japan, South Africa, and several countries in Europe. Some of the international brand names of Rohypnol are:
Because it is readily available south of the border, Rohypnol abuse in America is most common in southern states – Colorado, New Mexico, Texas, Arizona, border and California. In the United States, however, As a drug of abuse, Rohypnol is known by several street names/slang terms, including:
- Forget-Me Pill
- Lunch Money Drug
A person who is purposefully under the influence of Rohypnol is said to be “roached out”, while a person who is an unknowing victim of someone else giving them Rohypnol is said to have been “slipped a roofie”.
Why Do People Abuse Rohypnol?
In America, people misuse Rohypnol recreationally because, as a benzodiazepine, it produces a strong sedating, calming effect. Most frequently, however, Rohypnol is used as a potentiator – a drug that magnifies or enhances the effects of other intoxicants. For example, a person consuming both Rohypnol and alcohol would feel drunker faster, while a person combining it with marijuana would feel even more stoned. Rohypnol is very popular among the “club” crowd – people who attend music festivals, dance clubs, raves, etc. – because as it acts with other substances, users report feeling a euphoria that allows them to experience a deeper appreciation of the lights and music.
Why Is Rohypnol Called the “Date Rape” Drug?
When mixed in a drink, flunitrazepam is odorless, colorless, and tasteless, so it could be given to victims without their knowledge. Not only does it relax the individual and impair their judgment, at sufficient doses it can also cause anterograde amnesia. In other words, after a sexual assault, the victim will be unable to clearly remember what happened – the circumstances, their assailant, etc. Of special relevance, these effects that make a victim vulnerable begin taking effect at 30 minutes, peak within two hours, and can last for eight hours or more, possibly extending to the day after, resembling symptoms of a severe hangover. In fact, because of the risk of sexual assault, the company that makes Rohypnol altered its formulation in 1997. Since that date, Rohypnol has been an identifiable oblong olive-green tablet, instead of a more nondescript round white one. Rohypnol also now has a speckled blue core that will dissolve in a light-colored drink and warn the victim by turning dyeing their drink bright blue. These precautions are why most stories about date rape via Rohypnol today are more apocryphal, rather than actual. In reality, most sexual assaults take place because of excessive intoxication from alcohol or other drugs. It is important to note, however, that generic versions of flunitrazepam are not made with these assault-deterrent features. A larger danger may be from drug-facilitated theft – victims are Rob while heavily sedated by Rohypnol and similar drugs. According to a British newspaper, as many as 2000 people a year are victimized in this way.
What Are Rohypnol’s Side Effects on the Body?
As with any benzodiazepine, flunitrazepam triggers a number of side effects, including:
- Decreased anxiety
- Loss of inhibition
- Cognitive impairment
- Inability to concentrate
- Loss of balance
- Slurred speech
- Nausea and vomiting
- Respiratory depression – This effect is magnified to a dangerous degree when used with other depressants such as opioids, alcohol, or other benzodiazepine-class medications.
In some individuals, flunitrazepam can trigger effects that are opposite those of most benzodiazepines. Instead of relaxation or sedation, it can cause:
- Extreme talkativeness
- Impulse control
- Violent behavior
In some cases, the side effects can even lead a person to uncharacteristically engage in criminal behaviors.
Special Dangers of Rohypnol Abuse
Like other benzodiazepines, flunitrazepam is a central nervous system depressant, meaning it can affect blood pressure, heart rate, and especially breathing. These effects are worsened when Rohypnol is taken with other depressants substances. At sufficient doses or when used with other depressants, it is possible to overdose on Rohypnol. The onset of the symptoms of a flunitrazepam overdose is quite rapid, with symptoms developing within four hours. Mild overdose symptoms include:
- Extreme intoxication
- Excessive sleepiness
- Double vision
- Poor balance
- Impaired motor control
- Abnormal gait
- Loss of coordination
- Anterograde amnesia
Severe Rohypnol overdose symptoms include:
- Respiratory depression – slow, shallow, or suspended breathing
- Hypoxemia– low levels of oxygen in the blood
- Low blood pressure
- Extremely low heart rate
- Reduced body temperature
- Aspiration of vomit into the lungs
- Cardiac arrest
Dangerous Interactions with Other Substances
It is rare for a fatality to result from an overdose of Rohypnol on its own. However, and overdose is much more likely when taken with certain other substances, including:
- Opioid painkillers – OxyContin, Vicodin, codeine, tramadol, etc.
- Synthetic opioids – fentanyl, carfentanil, similar analogues
- Barbiturates – Luminal, Seconal, Nembutal, etc.
- Tricyclic antidepressants – amitriptyline, nortriptyline, desipramine, etc.
- Sedating antipsychotics – Abilify, Zyprexa, Risperdal, Seroquel, etc.
- Anticonvulsants – Depakote, Gabapentin, etc.
- Antihistamines – Benadryl, Advil, Allegra-D, Claritin
75% of all overdoses – and 98% of those that turn fatal – involve multiple substances. It is important to note that the concurrent use of benzodiazepines like Rohypnol, opioids, and alcohol is particularly dangerous. For example, between 2005 and 2011 there were almost 250,000 emergency room trips for benzodiazepine/opioid combinations, and another 164,000 trips for benzodiazepine/alcohol combinations. Of special relevance, there were more than 43,000 trips to the ER when all three substances were used. In approximately 40% of those cases, the result was a “serious outcome” – long-term hospitalization, disability, or death.
Rohypnol Withdrawal – What You Need to Know
The regular use of Rohypnol or any other benzodiazepine can result in dependence in a very short time – in as little as two weeks. This means that a Rohypnol-dependent person will begin experiencing withdrawal symptoms whenever the drug is unavailable, or they try to stop using. Withdrawal from any substance can be uncomfortable and even painful, both mentally and physical, but it is not usually particularly dangerous. However, in the case of benzodiazepines, withdrawal can be more than dangerous – it can be potentially fatal. For this reason, Rohypnol-dependent people should NEVER try to discontinue use abruptly or on their own. Rather, detox and withdrawal should ALWAYS be done gradually, under the close supervision of trained medical personnel. Some of the symptoms of flunitrazepam withdrawal include:
- Increased suicide risk
- Homicidal ideation
- Potentially-fatal convulsions
- Extreme anxiety and panic, to the point of terror
- Mood swings
- Restlessness Paranoia
- Impaired concentration
- Sleep paralysis
- Sensory disturbances
- Hypersensitivity to smells and/or light
- Blurred or double vision
- Nausea and vomiting
- Poor appetite
- Weight loss
- Loss of identity
- Feelings of unreality
Rohypnol withdrawal typically begins within 1-2 days of the last dose. Currently, there are no approved medications that can ease benzodiazepine withdrawal symptoms, other than gradual dose tapering. However, there are substances that MUST be avoided during Rohypnol detox and withdrawal:
- Caffeine – worsens withdrawal symptoms
- Barbiturates – share a cross-tolerance with benzodiazepines
- Antipsychotics – use makes seizures more likely
- Alcohol – ANY amount can trigger withdrawal failure
What’s the Bottom Line about Rohypnol?
Flunitrazepam drugs are highly-illegal, severely habit-forming, and present a significant risk of overdose and death. Those facts alone are strong reasons to stay away completely away from this drug. And when you also take into account how rapidly an addiction can develop and how dangerous withdrawal can be, that highlights the reasons not to step foot on such a slippery slope. More to the point, if you are ALREADY a regular user of Rohypnol or any other “party drug” and are finding it hard to quit, maybe you have an issue that requires professional help. The disease of addiction – especially benzodiazepine addiction – is too large and difficult a problem to tackle on your own. The good news is this – with timely intervention and individual, evidence-based treatment, it IS possible to recover from Rohypnol addiction and return to a safer, saner, and more stable life.