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Depression Health Center

Some Women Use 'Date-Rape Drug' Voluntarily

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May 1, 2000 -- Depressed young women with low self-esteem are using the so-called "date rape drug" to cope with negative feelings, says a new report in the Journal ofPediatric and Adolescent Gynecology.

But because it causes a euphoric, drunken-like high and enhances the effects of other drugs and alcohol, Rohypnol increases the risk of unintended pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases, says researcher Vaughn Rickert, PsyD. He is director of research at the Adolescent Health Center and associate professor of pediatrics at Mount Sinai School of Medicine, both in New York.

Rohypnol gained notoriety as the "date-rape drug" because of several instances in which women were raped after having the powerful "downer" slipped into their drinks. But the drug, which is 10 times stronger than the popular sedative Valium, is now becoming trendy among recreational users, Rickert tells WebMD.

"Rohypnol is not approved for use in the U.S., but it's a common sleep aid in Western Europe," Rickert says. "It usually enters the United Sates through Mexico, where it's manufactured." It is known on the street as rophies (roof-eez), roaches (ro-shays), rib, rope, and Mexican Valium.

"The small white tablets are often split in half and dissolved in alcohol," Rickert says. "But now it changes the color of beverages to warn potential rape victims."

The growing popularity of Rohypnol is easily explained. "It's inexpensive, possession usually doesn't lead to criminal prosecution, and it can't be detected with blood or urine drug screening," Rickert says.

"But it's physically addictive, even after just 10 days of use."

Women who are depressed and have low self-esteem are particularly susceptible to Rohypnol, Rickert found.

He and colleagues surveyed more than 800 sexually active women, from 14 to 26 years of age, about past and future use of Rohypnol. The women were also asked about depression, self-esteem, and ability to "just say no" to drugs.

According to the survey, about 2% of the women had used Rohypnol in the past and 5% indicated they might be likely to use it in the future. Potential users were three times more likely to be depressed, two times more likely to have low self-esteem, and six times more likely to be unable to "just say no." They were also more likely to have had sex before age 15 and to have multiple sex partners.

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