Rohypnol is a depressant and sedative that belongs to the benzodiazepine group along with diazepam and temazepam.
Although it has legitimate medical uses, particularly as a hypnotic to induce sleep in some cases of insomnia, it is best known as a “date rape drug” used to incapacitate unwilling victims. It is also used by drug addicts for recreational purposes.
Rohypnol is actually a trade name, the proper name for this drug is flunitrazepam. Like other benzodiazepines, it acts on the brain’s natural neurotransmitters to produce sedative effects. Specifically, it enhances the effects of the neurotransmitter GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid), whose function is to prevent brain cells from sending and receiving messages, thereby decreasing brain activity. The general effect of Rohypnol is to make you fall asleep or, in lower doses, to make you very calm.
Because of its strong sedative effects, this drug is used to calm some hospital patients before surgery and to treat short-term insomnia. However, as with many other benzodiazepines, use for this purpose has declined because of the potential for addiction and the availability of more effective and less risky drugs.
In many countries, it is illegal to possess Rohypnol without a prescription. In the United States, however, it is not available by prescription and is illegal in any form. Finally, in the United Kingdom, where it is considered a Class C drug, it is not available through the National Health Service (NHS) but can be prescribed privately.
Nevertheless, Rohypnol is available on the black market and is often exported illegally from countries with less stringent restrictions.
Its illicit use as a date rape drug is widely known, and its potential effectiveness for this purpose is due to the fact that it is generally colorless, odorless, tasteless, and dissolves quickly. However, it is far from the only date rape drug, and some studies show that it is used for this purpose much less frequently than is believed.
What is not widely known is that Rohypnol is most often used illegally for recreational purposes as a “club drug” to put people into a euphoric, relaxed, and intoxicated state. It is often used with other substances such as alcohol, heroin, and cocaine and can be part of a multiple addiction.
Rohypnol is a brand of flunitrazepam manufactured by the pharmaceutical company Hoffman-LaRoche. Other international trade names include Flunipam, Hypnocalm, Narcozep, Darkene, and Valsera.
Rohypnol is also known by a variety of common names, including Roofies, Rophies, Rope, Ruffies, Roche, La Roche, Roach, forget me pill, R2, and Mexican Valium.
It almost always comes in the form of a small, often white pill. However, some say it is sometimes ground into a fine powder for recreational purposes and then inhaled through the nose. It can also be dissolved in a drink, and because it is nearly invisible when mixed, its use as a date rape drug has become widespread. Manufacturers have since added a blue dye to the product to counteract this use, but black market pills rarely contain this dye.
As a depressant, Rohypnol’s main function is to “depress” or slow down brain activity, creating a sedative effect. Once taken, the effects can appear within 20 minutes.
These effects are often compared to extreme drunkenness: the individual may appear very sleepy and have little control, slurred speech, and appear incoherent and absent. In this state, the person who is drugged (voluntarily or involuntarily) is more likely to be involved in an accident or to be forced by others.
In addition to being used as a date rape drug, Rohypnol is also used to facilitate robberies. The effects of the drug can last 8 hours or more, leaving the individual vulnerable or even helpless for an extended period of time.
Memory loss can be severe and total. The individual will have little or no memory of events that occurred while under the influence of the drug.
When used with other drugs, including other depressants such as alcohol, Rohypnol can become very dangerous and lead to respiratory failure and other potentially fatal complications.
Like many other benzodiazepines, Rohypnol has a high risk of physical and psychological dependence. An individual may gradually develop a tolerance to the drug and require increasingly higher doses to achieve a similar effect.
Rohypnol is often used to enhance the effects of another drug, such as heroin, and can therefore be subject to secondary dependence. The withdrawal effects of Rohypnol can be severe, forcing the user to take more and more of the drug to ease the unpleasant sensations.
Rohypnol, or flunitrazepam, is manufactured by the Swiss pharmaceutical company Hoffman-LaRoche and its subsidiaries in Europe and South America. However, it is neither produced nor available by prescription in the United States, where abuse of the substance is high.
In the U.S., Rohypnol sold on the black market is primarily exported illicitly from Mexico and South America, where it is legally available by prescription. Like other black market drugs, this illicit trade is usually facilitated by criminal organizations. In addition to this physical cross-border trafficking, boxes of small pills can enter the country through traditional postal channels or through a courier.
Since the 1990s, U.S. authorities have been able to curb this trafficking in Rohypnol through significant border seizures, but these activities continue.
In other countries where the substance is legal for prescription use, Rohypnol can find its way onto the street through detour (from pharmaceutical suppliers and point of sale), theft, prescription forgery, etc.
These black market products then end up in the hands of street dealers, who sell them to consumers like other illicit drugs.
To prevent this product from being used as a date rape drug, Hoffman-LaRoche has added a dye to its tablets, which turns the drink in which they are dissolved blue. Nevertheless, the older, illicit versions of the drug are sold on the street without this dye.
FACTS AND STATISTICS
- Rohypnol is the trade name for flunitrazepam produced by Hoffman-LaRoche.
- It is a depressant, which controls activity in the central nervous system.
- Rohypnol is used for legitimate purposes, including inducing sleep in patients with short-term insomnia and as a sedative in hospitals.
- It is also used as a recreational drug to provide a feeling of euphoria and calm. It is often used to alleviate the “high” associated with cocaine and other stimulant drugs or to enhance the euphoric state caused by drugs such as heroin.
- Rohypnol is usually taken orally in pill form, but it can also be crushed and inhaled, or dissolved in a drink. It is also reportedly smoked as a powder with cannabis or tobacco.
- In many countries, Rohypnol is legal only by prescription. In the United States, it is completely illegal.
- In the United Kingdom, Rohypnol is not available through the National Health Service (NHS), but it can be purchased by private prescription.
- In high doses, the substance can cause periods of amnesia.
- Rohypnol is addictive, both physically and psychologically. Withdrawal from the drug is accompanied by a number of unpleasant side effects.
- Rohypnol has been associated with rapes. It is then discreetly dissolved in the drink of an unsuspecting victim, leaving them potentially vulnerable or defenseless.
- The drug has no particular taste, smell or color.
- Sustained use of Rohypnol can lead to sleep disturbances and other insomnia. Because tolerance to the drug develops gradually, the individual will need more of the drug to get the same effect.
- Rohypnol is much more potent than other benzodiazepines and is estimated to be 10 times more potent than diazepam (Valium).
- It is fast acting as its effects can appear within 15 to 20 minutes.
- The effects can last up to eight hours and, at high doses, amnesia is not uncommon.
- Side effects of the drug (especially drowsiness and mental confusion) may continue for 24 hours after use.
- Because any trace of Rohypnol is rapidly excreted in the urine, it can be difficult to detect its use. The most sophisticated tests can detect the drug if performed within 72 hours.
- In the U.S., illicit Rohypnol goes for $2 to $5 a pill on the street.
- It is usually sold in 1 or 2mg tablets (active content).
- According to official U.S. statistics, Rohypnol users are most often young men between the ages of 13 and 30.
- In 2001, a study of American schoolchildren showed that 1.1% of fourth graders had used Rohypnol. This number increased to 1.5% by the second grade and 1.7% by the twelfth grade.
- It is believed that Rohypnol abuse began in Europe in the 1970s but was not recorded in the United States until the early 1990s. Obviously, this is because the product was never legally produced or marketed in the United States.
SIGNS OF ADDICTION
Whether prescribed by a physician or taken illicitly for recreational purposes, Rohypnol has a high potential for abuse and dependence, as do most benzodiazepines. For this reason, it is usually prescribed for insomnia for a short period of time.
A person who is dependent on Rohypnol may experience a variety of symptoms. They may appear drunk and have problems with their joints and balance. Their mood and sleep patterns may change dramatically and they may seem distant.
An addiction to Rohypnol may manifest itself in a change in behavior, such as a loss of interest in previously enjoyed activities or poor performance in school or work. The addicted person may spend their time searching for the drug and not care about anything other than their next dose.
If they haven’t taken a drug in a while, they will show signs of withdrawal, including severe headaches, mental confusion, pain, agitation and nervousness. He or she will likely be in a state of heightened anxiety, which will then dissipate once the drug is taken.
A person with a legitimate prescription for Rohypnol may use up the amount prescribed more quickly than expected. This is because tolerance develops gradually, which means that the person will need more and more Rohypnol to achieve the same effects. In the end, the actual effects of the drug may be minimal and people will simply continue to take it to avoid the inevitable withdrawal effects.
As with any physically addictive drug, treatment of addiction and cessation of Rohypnol require great care. It is rarely recommended that users stop taking it abruptly on their own, without proper medical supervision.
Because benzodiazepines such as Rohypnol enhance the effects of the neurotransmitter GABA in the brain, the body will gradually and automatically reduce its production of this substance to compensate and regain its balance. GABA is a natural calming agent in the body, which helps regulate brain activity and sleep.
Because the body has become dependent on Rohypnol from the outside, the individual will run out of GABA when the drug is stopped. This will significantly increase his or her unregulated brain activity and generate anxiety, nervousness, insomnia, depression, mood swings and many other unwanted side effects. Without professional help, withdrawal can be difficult, even dangerous, and the risk of relapse is very high.
Because of the severity of withdrawal effects, especially in long-term heavy users, it is often recommended that patients enter a detoxification center. Specialized staff will be able to plan a coordinated detoxification, which will ensure the patient’s safety and minimize discomfort. In most cases, drug use should be reduced gradually rather than stopped immediately. Detox professionals may also administer medications to patients to alleviate specific withdrawal effects.
The physical withdrawal symptoms associated with Rohypnol can last for weeks or months, depending on the duration and level of addiction. The drug also creates powerful psychological withdrawal, which must also be treated.
In addition to detox and the medical help received to end one’s addiction, often the patient will undergo therapy to readjust to life without drugs and avoid relapse. Treatments such as cognitive behavioral therapy can be particularly effective, as they address the underlying reasons for the addiction, while emphasizing the adoption of healthy alternative behaviors.
In addition, the patient can participate in support groups with others suffering from similar addictions. This can be crucial to recovery and relapse prevention, as it offers the individual emotional support and understanding.
Recovery may take several months and require ongoing support in the form of counseling and other follow-up activities, even after the primary treatment has ended.
For people who become “addicted” to Rohypnol as a result of recreational use, it is likely that other addictions will need to be treated at the same time or as a result. Sometimes Rohypnol is part of a larger drug problem, which will require a thorough and comprehensive detoxification program in order for the patient to return to a healthy, drug-free life.