‘It only takes a second’ | SteamboatToday.com
Autumn Phillips

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‘It only takes a second’

Reports of date-rape drugs on the rise in Steamboat Springs

She has run the events of that night through her head over and over again since it happened. One drink. That’s all she had, and that’s almost all she can remember.

It was Fat Tuesday, and even though Steamboat Springs is thousands of miles from New Orleans, the bars were packed with Mardi Gras revelers.

“Audrey,” who asked that her real name not be used in this article, walked into a downtown bar at 9 p.m. with three friends. They are all in their early 20s, and they go out often in Steamboat.

Audrey walked up to the bar and ordered a round of drinks for her friends and a round of shots for another group of friends. That was the last charge she made on her card all night — her only proof that she did not buy or consume any other drinks.

“When I think about it now, my drink was probably sitting on the bar. We were taking pictures and not really paying attention,” she said.

Audrey remembers ordering the drinks and taking a few sips from her Manhattan. She remembers a moment at 1 or 2 a.m. when her boyfriend was screaming at her, asking her why she was acting so crazy. And then she remembers finding herself in the lobby of a hotel. She has no idea how she got there.

“I don’t remember anything,” she said.

Diane Moore, executive director of Advocates Against Battering and Abuse, listened to Audrey’s story and recognized the symptoms of someone who had ingested a date-rape drug.

Since mid-January, Advocates has received eight calls from women who suspect they have been drugged at parties or area bars.

In each case, by the time the women had pieced together their stories and called Advocates, it was two, three or four days after the alleged drugging. Of the three commonly used date-rape drugs — GHB (Gamma Hydroxybutyric Acid), Rohypnol and ketamine — none can be detected in the system more than 24 hours after ingestion.

The day after Audrey suspects she was drugged, she was crying and lapsing in and out of memory loss. She didn’t regain her senses and call Advocates until Thursday.

Of the group of four women Audrey walked into the bar with that night, two others report similar memory loss.

The one woman who does not think she was drugged said that her friends started acting incredibly intoxicated and then disappeared.

“She said that we were a mess,” Audrey recalled.

Somehow, the three women ended up at a bar in Ski Time Square. None of them remembers how. They only know that they were there because of the stories they heard later.

According to the stories she was told days later, Audrey had been crying and screaming at people. That type of behavior jibes with the typical symptoms of date-rape drugs, Moore said, such as increased aggressiveness — sexual, physical or otherwise.

‘All kinds of rumors’

Each year at about this time — at the height of winter tourist season — Advocates sees an increase in calls from women who suspect they have been drugged. Most of the calls are from local women in their 20s.

No one ever has been arrested for drugging someone in a bar, and local law enforcement has no evidence that it is happening.

“We hear all kinds rumors,” said Steamboat Springs police Detective Dave Kleiber said. “I am not na├âive enough to say that those types of drugs are not in this town, but we have never had one case where a victim has come forward and tested positive for those drugs.”

The drugs

Tony Spurlock is a division chief with the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office. He trains law enforcement officials and the staff of organizations such as Advocates statewide about issues of domestic violence and sexual assault. He has been a police officer for 24 years and has investigated hundreds of drug-related sexual assaults, he said.

When people think they have been drugged, they usually say they have been “roofied,” a slang reference to the drug Rohypnol, a trade name for the ultrapotent depressant flunitrazepam. Rohypnol, which is illegal in the United States but is sold in many other countries, comes in a pill form. As a precaution against illicit use of the drug, its manufacturer has created new pills that release a blue dye when added to liquid.

Although being “roofied” is the most common term, Spurlock suspects that most druggings involve GHB or ketamine, which come in colorless, odorless liquid form.

Ketamine is an animal tranquilizer used to anesthetize animals during surgery. It takes effect within 10 to 15 minutes.

“You are in a coma-like state for one to two hours,” Spurlock said. “I can do whatever I want to your body for hours, and the likelihood of you recalling it is impossible.”

Ketamine metabolizes out of the body in 18 to 24 hours and can be detected before then with a urine test.

Although some people use ketamine, referred to as “Special K” or “Vitamin K,” as a recreational drug, GHB is more common and, at only $10 a hit, it’s cheap.

Spurlock compares the GHB experience to an LSD trip.

“It gives you this euphoric feeling. There is some dizziness, some confusion. Your inhibitions are down,” he said.

GHB takes effect within five to 10 minutes and lasts about six hours. After that, it leaves the body within four to seven hours.

“I don’t like to pick on ski resorts, but wherever there are large gatherings of people on vacation, these drugs show up,” Spurlock said. “There are tons of people coming and going, and you have no idea who they are. People’s inhibitions are down, and alcohol is always involved.

“You see a victim you would like to dominate, all you have to do is have five minutes of conversation with that person.

“They start acting intoxicated, you say, ‘It’s OK. I’ll take them home.’ By the time she’s in your car, she’s passed out. But what people saw was that she was walking around. She was rubbing him. She was really drunk.”

The perpetrators

On the night of Fat Tuesday, Audrey went to three bars. She was acting incredibly intoxicated even though she had had only one drink, but no one intervened. She was with her boyfriend for much of the night, but they had just started dating, and he had no idea that her behavior was completely out of character, she said.

Audrey has gone out since the Fat Tuesday incident, but she didn’t drink.

“I feel a little afraid to go out now,” she said. “I ordered a Diet Coke and I realized how easy it would be to slip something in there. It only takes a second.”

Audrey and her friends were lucky, Moore said. They were completely incapacitated, but they had no evidence of sexual assault when they woke up the next morning. Not all women are that lucky, Moore said. Of the eight calls she has received, five of the women think they might have been assaulted.

These women have a hard time getting people to believe them.

“Our society doesn’t want to accept the fact that there are bad people out there that rape,” Spurlock said. “They are monsters.

“These young ladies go out. They feel safe because they are in a small town. They meet an attractive guy. But when you go to trial, the victim is on trial, not the perpetrator.

“Ninety-nine percent of women don’t report until three days later. They feel ashamed because of the way they found themselves in the morning. They think their boyfriend will find out or their family. There are all these societal blockers, and perpetrators rely on that.”

— To reach Autumn Phillips, call 871-4210

or e-mail aphillips@steamboatpilot.com