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Rohypnol: The Good, The Bad and the Pharmacology

Rohypnol’s has become infamous for its use as a date rape drug. More commonly known as Roofies, its properties make it the perfect drug to incapacitate a victim. The following article examines the drug in detail.

Drug Class and Therapeutic Use

Rohypnol’s generic name is flunitrazepam. A benzodiazepine developed in the 1970s. It was actually used to treat narcolepsy by inducing deep sleep. It is in the same class as diazepam, clonazepam, alprazolam and lorazepam. Benzodiazepines are sedatives that stimulate GABA receptors. They are used to treat anxiety, epilepsy, muscle spasms, and insomnia. They are often administered before medical procedures and diagnostic tests to sedate patients, as well as for alcohol withdrawal.

Flunitrazepam is up to 10 times more potent than other benzodiazepines, with effects starting within 30 minutes of consumption, and lasting t up 12 hours. As a sedative hypnotic, Rohypnol quickly puts insomniacs to sleep. It also causes amnesia which can be ideal in hospitalized patients and those about to have surgery.

Use in Date Rape and Other Crimes

Rohypnol’s ability to sedate and induce amnesia makes it the perfect date rape drug. It is colorless and odorless, making it easy for rapists to use. A 2001 study that analyzed the urine of date victims determined that Rohypnol was used in 1% of reported date rapes (El Sohly, et al. 2013). Rape is not the only crime that Rohypnol has facilitated. Over a seven month period 16 Asian men touring Brussels ended up in the emergency room intoxicated and robbed. They were found to have been given Rohypnol laced “welcome cookies” (Ramadan et. al, 2006). Previously, urine tests could only detect Rohypnol within 3 days of ingestion. Now, Rohypnol can be detected in urine up to 5 days later. Hair samples can also show Rohypnol use from a month ago.

Legal Issues

The United States has classified Rohypnol as a schedule III narcotic but several states have it listed as a schedule I. Schedule I drugs are illegal and cannot be prescribed. Even a schedule III narcotic, it is not approved for medical use in the United States and those who traffic it face similar penalties to trafficking a scheduled I narcotic. Several countries, such as Europe, Japan and Mexico still use Rohypnol to treat anxiety prior to anesthesia.

More on Rohypnol and date rape drugs in our Dark Pharmacy series

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Last updated October 2013

Source(s)

1. ElSohly, Mahmoud A.; Lee, Luen F.; Holzhauer, Lynn B.; Salamone, Salvatore J. (2001). “Analysis of urine samples in cases of alleged sexual assault case history”. Benzodiazepines and GHB: 127–144.

2. Ramadan AS, Wenanu O, Cock AD, Maes V, Lheureux P, Mols P. J Forensic Leg Med. 2013 Oct;20(7):918-921. doi: 10.1016/j.jflm.2013.06.017. Epub 2013 Aug 24. Chemical submission to commit robbery: A series of involuntary intoxications with flunitrazepam in Asian travellers in Brussels.

3. Detection of “Date-Rape” Drugs in Hair and Urines, Final Report https://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/nij/grants/201894.pdf

Kristie Hayes, M.S. (5 Posts)

Kristie Hayes graduated from the University of Wisconsin Comparative Biomedical Sciences Department with a Master of Science in Pharmacology & Toxicology. She is particularly interested drug metabolism and the development of new drugs designed to fight cancer. She currently works as a pharmacy technician at Surety Pro Pharmacy that serves seniors in independent and assisted living facilities and individuals in transitional community-based residential facilities.


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