Rohypnol, commonly known as “the date rape drug” or “roofies” is one of the most well-known benzodiazepines in the United States, but most people have very little actual information about it. Rohypnol is not available legally or approved for any medical use or manufactured in the United States. But it is legally available in Mexico, Colombia, and Europe, and over 60 other countries where it is used for the treatment of insomnia and as a pre-anesthetic. Rohypnol is often smuggled into the U.S from other countries, such as Mexico. The drug was first popularized in the late 70s as an odorless, colorless, and tasteless sedative.
However, roofies are also commonly abused as a recreational drug and can be highly addictive. Like other benzodiazepine class drugs, Rohypnol comes with strong risks for the development of benzodiazepine addiction, may contribute to long-term increases in mood and mental disorders, and may lead to overdose. Understanding Rohypnol, how it’s used, what abuse looks like, and how to get treatment for addiction will help you to make the right choices for either yourself or your loved one.
While illegal in the United States, Rohypnol is relatively easy to purchase, relatively affordable, and therefore common in club scenes and with teens.
Rohypnol is a brand name for the benzodiazepine-class drug officially known as flunitrazepam. Like other benzodiazepines, Rohypnol depresses the central nervous system, causing sedation, loss of inhibition, and reduced motor movement control, especially through interaction with the GABA, dopamine, and serotonin receptors. The drug, like other sedative-hypnotics (benzodiazepines) is dose-dependent in that a low dose promotes sedation, relaxation, and calm and a higher dose promotes sleep or blacking out. Here, Rohypnol is considered to be about 10 times the strength of prescription benzodiazepines like Valium, meaning that even a standard dose of 1-2mg of flunitrazepam can cause strong effects.
Rohypnol is no longer legally available for prescription use in the United States. A law was passed by the US government in 1996 known as the Drug Induced Rape Prevention and Punishment Act. This law was in response to the high number of sexual assault and rape cases related to Rohypnol abuse. However, it is still legal in many other countries for treating insomnia and is often imported into the U.S. for sale on the black market. People can often purchase Rohypnol online, import it from other countries, get a prescription in another country, or simply purchase it from drug dealers in their area.
Effects of Rohypnol
Rohypnol is a sedative-hypnotic drug, causing varying levels of relaxation and sedation depending on the dose. Individuals experience sedation, a drunk-like effect, and decreased inhibitions similarly to alcohol intoxication. Effects typically set in after about 15-20 minutes and last for 12+ hours.
Most users experience:
Lack of inhibition
Drowsiness or lethargy
Decreased blood pressure
In higher doses, individuals experience:
Some users also experience excitability or aggressive behavior after taking Rohypnol.
Many recreational users also combine Rohypnol with alcohol, other central nervous system depressants, or other drugs, which can cause blackout and coma, stupor, respiratory depression, and overdose.
Rohypnol for Recreational Use
Rohypnol is frequently abused as a sedative drug, typically taken in oral doses of 1-2mg. Most users swallow or allow them to dissolve under the tongue, may be crushed and smoked with marijuana or dissolved, and may be injected in a water-solution.
Recreational users typically take light doses to create a feeling of intoxication and relaxation, especially in club scenes, where a long-lasting high is desired.
Recreational Rohypnol is often combined with other drugs such as marijuana, ecstasy, LSD, alcohol, and even cocaine, to either enhance the drug or to reduce lethargy.
Rohypnol as a Date-Rape Drug
Rohypnol is most famous as a date-rape drug, despite most modern versions of the drug turning blue when dissolved in drinks. Rohypnol was first introduced in 1975 and reports of misuse had already surfaced by the end of the decade. The drug, which causes sedation and blackout in large doses alone, is more dangerous when mixed with alcohol, causing incapacitation and amnesia.
As a result, the United Nations reclassified the drug internationally into a Schedule III in 1995, leading to reduced prescription and more stringent records-keeping surrounding prescription. Today, Rohypnol is not approved for medical use or manufactured in the United States and is not available legally.
The original odorless, colorless, and tasteless pill was dissolved into drinks to cause blackouts. In some cases, the original pill is still available. In addition, the blue colorant in modern Rohypnol is not visible in all drinks, so risks are still present.
Rohypnol is a benzodiazepine drug and is therefore both dependence and addiction inducing. At 10 times the strength of Valium, Rohypnol dependence can occur fairly quickly, especially in regular users. Most regular users experience tolerance, where they need larger and larger doses to achieve the same effect. This will eventually result in physical dependence and withdrawal symptoms when drug-use is ceased.
Most users will slowly increase Rohypnol use over time and develop addiction symptoms and dependence at a rate they don’t notice. When they do, it’s often too late. Individuals with substance-dependence disorder often significantly change personality, typically only care about being or getting high, and spend most or all of their time, money, and attention on doing so. This dramatically affects lives, ruins relationships and careers, and does result in increased risk-taking behavior and criminal activity.
Rohypnol Detox Symptoms
Rohypnol interacts with the GABA receptors and the central nervous system, meaning withdrawal symptoms are often very similar to those of alcohol and other benzodiazepines. Individuals experience restlessness and anxiety as well as potentially severe symptoms such as tremors, seizures, and hallucinations.
Most users experience:
Cold and flu symptoms
Tremors or shakes
Muscle pain or general malaise
As with other benzodiazepines, it’s important not to go “cold turkey” if you are a regular user, simply because withdrawal can and will result in seizures. You are also recommended to go through detox under medical supervision to ensure any complications are monitored and treated.
Getting Help for Rohypnol Addiction
If you or a loved one is regularly using or is actively addicted to Rohypnol, it is important to get help. Benzodiazepines are not safe for long-term use because they cause chemical dependence, increase the risks of mood disorders such as anxiety or depression, may be linked to increasing aggression, and result in a high rate of overdose and drug-related ER visits, especially in combination with alcohol. Because Rohypnol is very frequently abused alongside alcohol, the risks of overdose and respiratory depression are very high for regular users.
Modern drug addiction treatment centers take a holistic approach to Rohypnol addiction, working to identify the underlying factors behind the addiction to treat the mental, behavioral, and emotional aspects of addiction alongside the physical. This treatment typically includes medically supervised drug detox, counseling, group counseling, group therapy, and behavioral therapy such as EMDR or CBT to tackle every aspect of addiction. While not every treatment center offers the same range of care, many also offer personalized programs designed to tackle individual issues and problems, so that the person in treatment can truly recover, build new behaviors, and move on to a new and healthy life.
No one starts abusing Rohypnol with the intent of it becoming problematic or dangerous, but it often does. If you or a loved one is using, it will affect your life, your long-term health, and your relationships. There is help.