Rohypnol or Roofies: How to Avoid Date Rape Drugs When Traveling

Remember to Watch Your Drink...

pill in a drink
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One of the most common fears of travelers -- and especially solo female travelers -- is that they might be date raped abroad. I definitely worried about the potential of it happening to me before I left to travel. Fortunately, this is an extremely rare occurrence, but it's still something to be aware of and guard against as you travel. 

Read on to find out more about date rape drugs, how to recognize them, and what to do if you think you've been drugged.

What are Roofies?

Rohypnol (the brand name of Flunitrazepam), or a "roofie", is a benzodiazapine, a prescription pill similar to Valium, but ten times stronger. It has been illegal in the United States since 1996.

Roofies comes in 0.5 mg or 1.0 mg tablets, which are then ground up and mixed into drinks. The older tablets look very much like aspirin and cost anywhere from $1.00 to $5.00; the newer pills, which contain a blue dye, are olive-colored, so easier to recognize. 

What do Roofies do?

Roofies cause sedation, a feeling of extreme intoxication, and amnesia. For that reason, Rohypnol is frequently the drug of choice for people looking to commit sexual assault, giving it the name, "the date-rape drug". It's not easily detected if you drop a pill into someone's drink, so this is the typical method used. 

After consuming the drug, the effects start to kick in after around 20 or 30 minutes. You'll start to feel as though you're very drunk, have difficulty speaking or moving, and may eventually pass out.

The peak effects of the drug occur two hours after ingestion, and the effects can last for as long as twelve hours. 

Even if you don't pass out, you'll find you have no memory of anything that occurred while you were under the drug's influence. Besides making you vulnerable to sexual assault, roofies can also lead to seizures, coma, liver failure, and even death from respiratory depression.

How Can I Protect Myself?

Fortunately, there's no reason to feel hopeless. There's plenty you can do to protect your drink from being spiked. Here are some of our top tips for travelers who are fearful of facing this on the road. 

Look Out for a Change in Flavor

When dissolved in alcohol, roofies give off a bitter taste. If your drink suddenly starts to taste strange, different, and/or bitter, abandon it immediately. Tell someone you trust that you suspect somebody put something in your drink, so they can keep a watchful eye on your at all times.

If you're in an awkward situation and are standing beside the person who you suspect may have drugged your drink, attempt to discreetly pour it out under the table or behind your back, or pretend to sip at it without letting any into your mouth. Be aware, though, they'll most likely be watching you to check you consume your drink, so be very subtle when pouring it away. 

This is also a great clue that someone has spiked your drink. If someone is taking a high level of interest into how much you've drunk and whether you're not drinking enough, cease drinking instantly. 

Look Out for Blue Drinks

When placed in a light-colored drink, newer roofies will turn the beverage bright blue.

If your water or gin and tonic turns blue, dump it and become especially alert; someone has tried to drug you. The older roofies won't change the color of your drink, so you shouldn't rely on this method of detection only. As above, let somebody know what's happened. 

This also offers a great way of prevention: if you order clear-colored drinks, you'll most likely be less of a target, as the attacker won't be able to effectively disguise the fact that they've drugged your drink. 

Be Alert of Sudden Feelings of Drunkenness

If you suddenly feel unusually drunk after just a small amount of alcohol, quickly ask for help (preferably not from the strange man next to you at the bar who may have given you the roofie) -- you might have just a few minutes of alert behavior left. Grab a friend and tell them your concerns -- they can look after you if anything happens.

 

Keep an Eye on Your Drinks 

Don't drink anything you did not open yourself or that you didn't see being opened or poured. It's definitely worth going to the bar with anyone who offers to buy you a drink, or at least watching them with their drink from your seat. 

Don't Accept Drinks From Anyone 

It can be tempting to head out with a group of new friends you've just met in a dorm room, but be wary if anyone offers to head to the bar to get you a drink. Either accompany them up there so you can see your drink being poured, or insist on buying your own drink. Don't accept a drink from someone you don't know unless you have seen it being opened or poured by a bartender.

Don't Leave Your Drink Unattended

Always watch your drink at parties and bars. If you leave your drink unattended, get a fresh one to be on the safe side. It's best to keep it in your hand at all times. If you need to head to the restroom, ask a friend to watch your drink for you. 

Buy Drinks in Bottles

Even if you're milling around with your drink in your hand, it's easy for someone to sneak up behind you and drop a pill in your glass without you realising. Instead, try to get your hands on a bottled drink. That way, you can easily hold your thumb over the top of the bottle, preventing anyone from putting anything in it. 

Go Out With Friends

Have a friend drive to and from a party or bar with you to lessen your chances of being taken advantage of. If they'll be taking you home, they won't be leaving without you.

If you're in a new city and looking to explore the nightlife, ask around in the hostel common room to see if anyone is willing to head out with you. You might not be friends, but having someone looking out for you improves your safety. 

Keep Your Cellphone Charged

Make sure you have a fully-charged cellphone when you head out for the night. Find out why we recommend travelling with an unlocked phone -- it's especially important in these circumstances! You'll be able to call the police or jump online to message friends on Facebook if you're in trouble.

On top of that, you can search for the route you'll need to take to get back to your hostel on your phone when you arrive at the bar, so you'll be able to follow it home if something happens and you can't remember how to get back. 

Be Alert for Anyone Behaving Strangely

Take care of your friends, too. If they seem disproportionately drunk and "out of it," they may have been slipped a drug. Don't leave them alone at any point if you're concerned about them, and take them back to the hostel as soon as possible.

What Should I Do if I Suspect I've Been Raped?

If you suspect that you have been sexually assaulted, do not shower, douche or otherwise destroy potential evidence. Go to the hospital at once so that you will have evidence of the assault. Pressing charges is a big decision; if you decide to do so, a visit to the hospital after a suspected assault will provide you with an evidence sample.

Get support to help you through this traumatic event. Certainly you should inform friends you trust, and you should consider getting professional counseling.

 

All of that said, there is no need to be paranoid on your vacation -- having a drink with a new guy is a big part of the fun of traveling and meeting folks. Just be aware, follow the tips mentioned above, and then get on with enjoying yourself!

 

This article has been edited and updated by Lauren Juliff