'Roofies': The Date-Rape Drug

OF ALL THE SUBSTANCES CHRIS, 18, has abused -- including marijuana, cocaine, heroin and spray paint -- there's only one he really didn't care for. Known on the street as "roofies," "rope," "the forget pill" and "roach," the drug is actually a sedative related to Valium -- but 10 times stronger. "I don't know why I kept on using it," says Chris, who was kicked out of his Texas high school after pushing and cursing a teacher while he was "roached." "I guess I just wanted to be like my friends."

The illicit intoxicant that got Chris in-to trouble is the newest worry among drug-enforcement officials and counselors around the country. A mixture of roofies -- marketed by Hoffmann-La Roche as Rohypnol -- and champagne is what sent rocker Kurt Cobain into a coma in Rome, a month before his suicide. Abuse is highest in Texas and in Florida, where 100,000 of the tablets have been confiscated in the past couple of years. But according to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, 2,000 seizures of the drug have been made in 32 states and Puerto Rico, and it's concerning state health officials as far north as Minnesota. "We're quite taken aback," says Al Wasilewski, a spokesman for Hoffmann-La Roche. "We're very concerned about this drug."

Rohypnol is legally available in more than 60 countries for severe insomnia, and U.S.-bound travelers may bring in a three-month supply for "personal use." Much of it's smuggled from Mexico and Colombia. According to a recent University of Texas study, 43 percent of people declaring prescription drugs at one Mexican border were importing roofies. Presumably they weren't all insomniacs. At just $1 to $5 a pill, the drug is especially popular with teens, who like to combine it with alcohol for a quick punch-drunk hit. The "lunch money" high has also caught on with gangs and the rave crowd.

Like alcohol, roofies make some users fearless and aggressive, but a scarier effect is blackouts, with complete loss of memory. That's why it's also known as "the date-rape drug." According to Broward County, Fla., prosecutor Bob Nichols, one adult and three juveniles he's successfully prosecuted had knocked women out with roofies in rapes they committed. Such cases -- which usually involve slipping the drug into a woman's drink -- are hard to prosecute, Nichols says, since the women can't usually remember any details of the crime -- but sometimes the prosecution gets lucky. Mark Perez, a satellite-dish installer from Pembroke Pines, Fla., couldn't resist boasting to friends that he'd drugged and raped a dozen women, most of whom he had picked up in bars. He pleaded no contest to one count of sexually battering a helpless person -- and got an eight-year prison sentence.

While date rape is the most sensational consequence of roofies, there's also much concern about its potential for addiction and lethal overdosing. To help stop abuse, Hoffmann-La Roche may abandon its two-mg pill and market only a dose half as potent. The DEA is considering changing Rohypnol's designation as a Schedule IV drug to Schedule I, carrying the same stiff penalties for possession as heroin. In Dade County, Fla., drivers are being tested for Rohypnol when they appear drunk but register a low alcohol level -- and penalties for rapes committed after drugging the victim carry harsher penalties. In Texas, the state's Commission on Alcohol and Drug Abuse recently sent out fliers on Rohypnol to all school nurses. Despite these efforts, the roofie wave probably hasn't even crested yet. So, experts say, quiz your kids. And don't take your eyes off your drink.

There have been 2,000 roofies seizures in 32 states. The DEA has made grabs in 13 states--almost 500 in Texas alone.

State         Number of DEA seizures



Texas              489

Louisiana           79

Florida             58

Oklahoma            33

Mississippi         19

Arizona             17

New Mexico           5

North Carolina       5

Alabama              3

Kansas               3

California           2

Arkansas             1

Maryland             1

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