Drug altered to prevent assault
Because of Rohypnol's suspected use in sexual assaults, manufacturer Hoffman-La Roche has reformulated the drug, said Gail Safian, a representative of the company.
Rohypnol, which has been labeled the "date rape drug," is a tranquilizer prescribed for insomnia in Europe and Mexico. The drug can be used in conjunction with a sexual assault by dissolving it in a victim's drink, causing her to lose memory, especially when alcohol is involved.
In order to prevent future sexual assaults, Rohypnol now emits a blue dye that alters the hue of a light-colored beverage. A special coating, which makes the drug dissolve more slowly, has also been added, Safian said.
"If half of the pill is still intact, the person could theoretically see it and know something is up," Safian added.
Kim Birmingham, a pharmacist at the University of Arizona Campus Health Center, said the change is a good step.
"I think it is a positive thing they are doing, showing they care about patient health," she said.
The reformulation, however, has not yet been tested and approved in most countries. It should be available in Mexico by the end of the year, Safian said.
While it is illegal in the United States, Rohypnol is often smuggled into the country through Mexico. Therefore, Hoffman-La Roche has reduced its distributors in Mexico from 200 to 16, Safian said. Because of that, there is less illegal smuggling of the drug into the United States, she added.
Dan Reilly, a Campus Health Center health educator, said he views Hoffman-La Roche's announcement with skepticism. He said the company has been announcing the reformulation for a long time.
"Even though they (Hoffman-La Roche) have reduced their suppliers in Mexico from 200 to 16, what sort of (Rohypnol) stock do they have?" Reilly said.
Between June 1996 and Feb. 1, Hoffman-La Roche tested 651 urine samples from women across the country who suspected Rohypnol had been used in a sexual assault. Of the 651 total samples, five contained Rohypnol. Other drugs, including alcohol, marijuana and cocaine, were detected in 40 percent of the samples, Safian said.
"There are men who use alcohol just as effectively," said Matt Sanders, assistant director of the UA's Oasis Center for Sexual Assault and Relationship Violence.
Both Sanders and Reilly said the intense attention focused on Rohypnol blurs the larger issue - acquaintance rape.
An April 15 article in The Peer Educator claims that "roofies" are losing the reputation as a "date rape drug." The drug can be used as a tool to commit crimes, especially on unsuspecting young people on vacation. The newest target of predatory drugs, according to the article, is "designated drivers."
"The person drinking only soda has felt insulated from becoming a victim," the article stated. "Dropping your guard because you are not 'drinking' is just the behavior that puts you at risk."
Part of the reason the suspicion surrounding Rohypnol has lessened is Hoffman-La Roche's quick response to the crisis, said Natalie Croll, assistant director of health promotion and education for Pennsylvania State University's Health Services.
Croll said there has never been a documented case where Rohypnol has been used in conjunction with sexual assault at her university, but she said there is always need for caution.
"Anecdotally we have heard about it, but Rohypnol is not an epidemic," Reilly said.
If a woman comes to the UA's Campus Health Center thinking she has been exposed to Rohypnol, staff members will refer her to the Oasis Center. The drug can remain in the body for 72 hours.
UA students said the pharmaceutical company's proactive response is a sigh of relief.
"I think they should take responsibility. The pharmaceutical companies have the capability and the funding," said pharmacy student Daniela Heinrich. "It is a devastating thing if you get that stuck in your drink."
Chemistry junior Elyse Dobkin, president of Alpha Delta Pi sorority, said, "As president of my sorority, I worry ever time my sisters go out. I am excited that chemists have the technology to make the drug safer."
Roach, roofies, the forget pill, rope, rophies, ruffies, R2, roofenol, la roche, rib
A small white tablet with no taste or odor when dissolved in a drink
Swallowed as a pill, dissolved in a drink, or snorted