Spring break destinations
popular places for Rohypnol

By Emily Gerkin
LIFE Staff Writer

With students getting ready for upcoming trips for spring break, CMU Health Services officials are concerned about access to new harmful drugs.

Texas and Florida are not only popular vacation spots for students on break, they are also popular places for people to acquire and abuse Rohypnol.

Rohypnol is a brand name of flunitrazepam. Flunitrazepams are described by the Office of National Drug Control Policy to be like the tranquilizers used in Valium, but 10 times more potent.

"It's so new that people don't know what it is, what it can do to you and why they should watch out for it," said Mark Minelli, manager of health advocacy services.

While it's illegal for Rohypnol to be prescribed in the United States, it's legal for individuals to purchase it elsewhere, namely Mexico and Europe, and bring it across U.S. borders.

Jim Trolliver, who is helping the Drug Enforcement Agency with its Rohypnol research in Washington D.C. has conducted studies along the Texas/Mexican border where many students bring Rohypnol into the country.

"A vast majority of the people bringing it into the States are young, college age students. All they have to do is fill out a declaration form and have a prescription, which isn't hard to get. The doctors are practically giving them out down there," Trolliver said.

During a three week period, Trolliver saw 100,000 dosages of Valium and Rohypnol brought into the United States at one customs check point.

Trolliver said the government is concerned with four basic uses of Rohypnol: its affects when taken with alcohol, when taken with heroin, when taken with cocaine and when used in date rape situations.

Date rape is the area CMU officials are most concerned with.

"When they are on spring break, women need to be aware of what Rohypnol can do," Minelli said. "If women get their drinks laced while they are not looking, they will have no control of what will happen."

In this situation, Rohypnol acts as a sedative, slowing motor skills and inducing amnesia, muscle relaxation and sleep. These conditions will occur within the first few hours of ingestion.

"Rohypnol is also called the Forget Pill because when they wake up, women can't remember what happened. They may feel a little sluggish and think that they drank too much the night before, but they won't remember anything. It's all a series of blackouts," Minelli said. Minelli said women need to pay attention to their environment.

"It's really easy to sneak that stuff in if they are not paying attention," he said.

Since the women may experience blackouts, it is hard for the women or officials to know what happened.

Minelli said throughout the nation there are a couple of rape cases pending that involve the use of Rohypnol.

Trolliver said young adults use Rohypnol frequently with alcohol to intensify their "buzzes." When taken with heroin, Rohypnol boosts the high produced by heroin on the body.

Using the drug with cocaine started in Europe in the 1980s to counter side effects.

"Coming down off of cocaine can be really harsh. People take Rohypnol to ease the crash," Minelli said.

Users who have reported taking the drug with marijuana experience a "floating" sensation. Combined with cocaine, it produces a fast hit followed by a mellow state.

"If they take some with one or two beers, it will have the effect on them like a six pack would," he said. "If they are pulled over and show severe driving impairment, their breath might actually reveal really low levels of alcohol."

What complicates the situation even further is that Rohypnol doesn't show up in regular breath tests; it has to be specifically tested for.

According to the Office of National Drug Control Policy, flunitrazepam will only show in urine if an expensive urine test is conducted.

Dade County, Fla. is now allowing its police department to test for flunitrazepam in urine specimens of impaired drivers with low alcohol levels.

"Rohypnol is coming into Florida through the mail and airports from a variety of different countries. It's also coming in all along the Mexican border, into New Mexico, California," he said.

Rohypnol is classified as a Schedule Four drug, allowing it to be legally brought into the country. Trolliver said the Drug Enforcement Agency is pushing very hard to have the drug classified as Schedule One, along with heroin, PCP, and marijuana.

Schedule One drugs are defined by the DEA as those with a high potential for abuse and dependence with no accepted medical use in the U.S.