Monday, April 24, 2006

Date rape drugs

You may have heard stories of women who go out for a date or to a party and pass out after a drink, only to wake up in a strange place, experiencing pain as a result of sexual assault that happened when they were unconscious.

While you may hear about this in movies or fiction stories, incidents like this really take place and are known as drug-facilitated sexual assault. The drugs used by the offenders are simply described as "date rape drugs."

Three kinds of date rape drugs have been identified by the National Women's Health Information Center (NWHIC) of the US Department of Health and Human Services. These are GHB, ketamine hydrochloride and rohypnol. GHB or gamma hydroxy butiric acid comes in the form of odorless and colorless liquid, or white powder, or a pill. Rohypnol, a pill, turns blue or white when mixed with liquid. Ketamine comes in the form of white powder. Alcohol is also considered as a date rape drug since it puts the victim at risk of sexual assault when taken in an amount that affects judgment. Sometimes, alcohol is mixed with the other drugs.

When taken in, these drugs have immediate effect, which explains why offenders prefer to use these.

GHB, made legal in the US to treat sleep problems, has these effects: relaxation, drowsiness, cannot recall what happened, blacking out, problems with vision, problems with breathing, sweating, tremors, seizures, vomiting, coma and death.

Rohypnol, which is not legal in the US, is used in some countries to treat sleep problems and for anesthesia during surgery. It relaxes the muscles, victim cannot remember what happened when drugged, lowers the blood pressure, dizziness, confusion, sleepiness and difficulty with motor movements.

Ketamine, used in the US as anesthesia mostly for animals, causes numbness, hallucinations, loss of time and identity perception, out of body experiences, impaired motor function, and dream-like feeling.

To protect yourself, NWHIC says: don't accept drinks from people you don't know, don't share drinks, open containers yourself, don't drink from punch bowls or large open containers, keep your drink with you at all times even when you go to the bathroom.

Those who feel they may have ingested drinks with any of these drugs should go to the doctor immediately for tests, go for counseling, and report to the authorities.

(First published in THE SUN Hong Kong, May 2006 main edition)