What Is Rohypnol?
Rohypnol, brand name of flunitrazepam, is best known as the archetypal date rape drug. Like other benzodiazepines (e.g. Xanax, Ativan, Valium, etc.), it acts as a central nervous system depressant. It’s reportedly 10 times more potent than Valium, and is extremely popular in places such as Europe and Latin America for treating sleep and anxiety disorders.
In 2011, 1.3% of 12th graders reported abusing Rohypnol in the past year. But this doesn’t account for the thousands of cases of forced Rohypnol use. During their college years, approximately 1 in 4 women experienced date rape or an attempted date rape — and an untold number of these cases involve drugs like Rohypnol.
The Date Rape Drug
Rohypnol is among the most infamous of date rape drugs. It was first synthesized in Switzerland in 1975 — intended for medical use. Not long after, though, reports of misuse surfaced around Europe. Rohypnol pills became especially popular among sexual predators, who would covertly drop a pill in someone’s drink and, after it quickly dissolved and was consumed, take advantage of the person who drank it.
The most common form of Rohypnol is white, odorless and tasteless — making it nearly impossible to detect when slipped in a drink. Manufacturers eventually reformulated it into green tablets that turn drinks blue when mixed, making it easier to spot. But both types of pills still exist in production, and cases of date rape involving the drug remain an issue in the U.S.
Street Names for Rohypnol
You may know Rohypnol pills as “roofies.” This is the perhaps the most common term used in situations where people feel they were slipped drugs at a bar or nightclub. Other street names for Rohypnol include:
- Forget-me pill
- Mexican Valium
- Mind erasers
Another street name is “Roche,” after the pill’s inventor Hoffman-La Roche. The word “Roche” is also written on many Rohypnol pills.
How Is Rohypnol Used?
Rohypnol pills are often swallowed, either with water or by being chewed and then dissolved under the tongue. Pills typically come in 0.5, 1 or 2 milligram doses, but users may take several to maximize the effects. Some users will crush the pills and snort the resulting powder, smoke it on top of marijuana, or even inject it.
Teens using heroin, cocaine, LSD or ecstasy might take Rohypnol to either enhance the positive effects or soften the negative effects of these drugs. Rohypnol and alcohol is another popular combination at clubs and parties.
Once it enters the body, the effects of Rohypnol take about 20 minutes to kick in, and can last for 12 hours or ever longer.
Where Does Rohypnol Come From?
Rohypnol is not prescribed by U.S. doctors, but the demand has caused dealers to smuggle shipments of the medication in from overseas. Your teen may be able to find it by asking around at a club or through word of mouth. They could also search online — as the Web has grown, drug trafficking websites have allowed teens to track down Rohypnol or other illicit drugs and have them shipped right to their mailbox.
While the drug itself is classified as a Schedule IV substance in the U.S., the 1996 Drug Induced Rape Prevention Act increased the restrictions and punishments related to the drug. Being caught in possession of Rohypnol can result in a fine and 3 years in jail, and distribution or importation is punishable by up to 20 years in jail.
Symptoms of Rohypnol Abuse
Tens of thousands of teens experiment with Rohypnol, and not just in party atmospheres. Many abuse this highly potent drug to cope with co-occurring mental health issues (e.g. ADHD, anxiety) or simply for the thrill of trying something new.
This drug abuse starts young — drug use in middle school is just as much a reality as experimentation in high school. As with many substance habits, it can begin innocently enough. But in a flash it can become a life-altering addiction, over time, may demand an intervention.
If your son or daughter is abusing Rohypnol, you might notice some telltale signs. These can include:
- Extreme lethargy or prolonged sleeping patterns
- Lowered inhibitions
- Missing class or failing grades
- Aggressive behavior
- Apathy towards family or obligations
Effects of Rohypnol Abuse
The side effects of Rohypnol range from mild to severe. Even though it’s legal in parts of the world, it’s immensely dangerous — especially when taken in large doses. If your teen is abusing Rohypnol, each day is a roll of the dice regarding their mental and physical health.
Effects on the Brain
Rohypnol depresses brain function and central nervous system activity in a big way. It has a tranquilizing effect, and users have described it as “paralyzing.” This drastic slowing down of the brain is multiplied when alcohol is mixed in — this explains why people slipped Rohypnol at a bar become so vulnerable and lose control over their actions. Death from Rohypnol overdose is far more likely when alcohol is involved.
Other side effects of Rohypnol on the brain can include:
- Short-term amnesia, or completely forgetting what happened while intoxicated
- Long-term memory impairment
- Slurred speech
- Blacking out
Effects on the Body
The complete incapacitation caused by Rohypnol is physical as well as psychological. As the brain slows to a crawl, the body’s functions will have a similar reaction. Some of these effects can be seen on the surface. Others are internal, and may not be realized until they result in a serious hospital visit.
Physical side effects of Rohypnol can include:
- Muscle relaxation
- Difficulty walking and loss of motor control
- Visual disturbances
- Decreased blood pressure
- Gastrointestinal disturbances
- Urinary retention
- Respiratory depression
Rohypnol Addiction and Withdrawal
If your teen begins taking Rohypnol, they may soon realize they can’t stop. Rohypnol addiction is very real — not just as a psychological dependency, where the user feels an underlying need to keep using, but as a physical dependency as well. When a teen abusing Rohypnol goes without taking the drug, they can experience a painful drug withdrawal — the body’s violent reaction when a drug of addiction isn’t received.
Withdrawal symptoms of Rohypnol dependency may include:
- Muscle pain
- Numbness of the extremities
- Loss of identity
Rohypnol withdrawal can cause seizures up to a week after an addict’s last use. Rohypnol treatment will provide a lengthy supervised detox period, where your teen can work through these withdrawal symptoms without the urge to seek a fix. Many cases of addiction are simply users trying to avoid withdrawal by repeatedly using drugs or alcohol. If you identify symptoms of Rohypnol use in your teen, you should immediately reach out for help as to prevent continued use and the litany of risks that comes along with it.
Getting Help with Rohypnol Addiction
If you or a loved one is addicted to any drug — including Rohypnol — then the best path toward recovery is through professional treatment. This might mean a simple detox followed by regular therapy appointments, outpatient treatment or inpatient drug rehab. At the first sign of a problem, contact a treatment professional to discuss your options. Your doctor can assess your level of addiction, and recommend a treatment avenue.
At The Recovery Village we offer free, confidential help for anyone concerned abuse. Whether you are aware that your teen is dealing with addiction, or you simply wish to discuss some of your questions, we are here for you. We can help you find a doctor to assess your child, or even give you a curated list of teen rehab facilities that specialize in your child’s problem. Don’t wait to address an issue — now is the time to tackle this. Begin by calling us, and we can help you take it from there.
Alcohol & Sexual Assault in College
“Flunitrazepam (Rohypnol).” CESAR (Center for Substance Abuse Research). University of Maryland, 29 Oct. 2013. Web. 14 Mar. 2016.
“Date Rape.” University of the Sciences in Philadelphia: A Science College. University of the Sciences in Philadelphia, 2014. Web. 14 Mar. 2016.
“Rohypnol Fast Facts.” National Drug Intelligence Center. U.S. Department of Justice, Aug. 2003. Web. 14 Mar. 2016.
“What is Rohypnol? Side Effects of Roofies & Date Rape Drugs.” Drug Free World: Substance & Alcohol Abuse, Education & Prevention. Foundation for a Drug-Free World, n.d. Web. 14 Mar. 2016.
The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.