Behind the Headlines for March 9

The details behind the date-rape drug

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Q. Advocates distributed a flier locally warning people to be aware of drugs that can easily be slipped into drinks. Who did you give it to and what prompted you to distribute it in the first place?

A. The flier says, "Rohypnol, GHB, Ketamine. All have been detected in our community and can be lethal. Protect yourself."

The flier was distributed to every restaurant, bar and club in Steamboat and the surrounding areas. We have been sending out this flier for the past few years as a tool to help educate the community on how to protect themselves from date-rape drugs. In 2002, Advocates provided services to more than 65 victims of sexual assault, which is more than double the number the agency saw in 2001. These victims were men, women and children aged 7 to 87 who experienced anything from exhibitionism to rape. Accompanying this increase, we have also seen a sharp rise in reports of suspected and confirmed cases of victims being slipped date-rape drugs.

Q. How responsive were club owners to hanging the flier? Do you think it potentially damages their business by scaring customers?

A. The responsiveness from club owners has ranged from those who choose not to display them to proprietors who have called us for extra fliers and supplementary information about this potentially lethal threat in our community. There is always a possibility that customers will be scared by this information. However, when clubs, bars and restaurants choose to display these fliers, it is a clear demonstration that they care about the welfare of their patrons. I feel that people would rather be informed and cautious than ignorant to the risks that surround them.

Q. How long has this been a problem in Steamboat?

A. According to the Steamboat Springs Police Department, the first case was reported to it about four years ago.

Q. Why did Advocates get involved?

A. Advocates is primarily known for providing services to victims of domestic violence. However, we also provide support, counseling and advocacy to victims of sexual assault and other violent crimes. Advocates has been called to respond to many reports of date-rape drugs by other community organizations such as the hospital, law enforcement, Planned Parenthood as well as by victims themselves.

Q. Does this just happen to women?

A. No, this does not just happen to women. While women are the main targets of sexual assault, we have received reports of men in Steamboat who have been slipped date-rape drugs.

Q. What consequences have you witnessed from the use of this drug?

A. The physical effects of Rohypnol, or "Roofies," may be noticeable within 20 to 30 minutes after ingestion. It causes drowsiness, confusion, impaired motor skills, dizziness, impaired judgment and reduced level of consciousness. One may look and act like someone who is drunk, speech may be slurred and you may have difficulty walking, or be completely unconscious. The combination of Rohypnol with alcohol and other drugs may produce extremely low blood pressure, respiratory depression, full or partial amnesia, difficulty breathing, coma or even death. GHB, another date-rape drug that has been detected in our community, acts as a depressant on the central nervous system. It is rapidly metabolized in the body and the effects can be felt within 15 minutes after ingestion. GHB can cause dizziness, nausea, vomiting, confusion, seizures, respiratory depression, intense drowsiness, amnesia, unconsciousness and coma. When GHB is ingested with alcohol or other drugs, the consequences may be life-threatening. Without immediate and appropriate medical care, the results may be fatal.

Both Rohypnol and GHB are colorless and odorless, can be found in powder or liquid form and are easily dissolved. When Rohypnol is dissolved into a drink, you can't see it, smell it or taste it. GHB may be recognizable by its slightly salty taste. With either drug, once it begins to take effect, you are in a weakened, helpless or unconscious state. You are so incapacitated you can't escape or resist a rapist or even call out for help.

Q. Is this a difficult crime to prosecute?

A. It is a difficult crime to prosecute because the drug only stays in your system for a limited amount of time, and when the drug wears off, you may not remember what happened or who participated because it causes amnesia. This is why prevention by taking care of yourself and watching out for your friends is of utmost importance. What you can do if it happens to you to make prosecution easier is to go to a hospital emergency department as soon as possible for an examination and evidence collection. You should request that the hospital take a urine sample for drug toxicology testing. Also, preserve as much physical evidence as possible. Do not urinate, shower, bathe, douche or throw away the clothing you were wearing during the incident. If possible, save any other materials that might provide evidence, such as the glass that held your drink. After these precautions are taken, contact a rape crisis agency, such as Advocates, for additional support and resources.

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