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Congress Considers Legislation Targeting Rohypnol®, the "Date Rape" Drug



Congress is considering a bill, H.R. 3905, sponsored by Rep. Gerald Solomon (R-NY) to toughen penalties for possessing the drug Rohypnol®, known as the "date rape" drug because of its ability to incapacitate those who unwittingly consume large doses (Josh Greenberg, "Bill Targets Drug Used in Date Rapes," Los Angeles Times/Washington Edition, June 17, 1996, p. A6; "DEA urges rescheduling of Rohypnol®," Reuters, July 17, 1996; for background, see "U.S. Bans Importation of Rohypnol®," NewsBriefs, April 1996).

Rohypnol®, produced by the Swiss pharmaceutical giant, Hoffman-La Roche, is the brand name for the drug flunitrazepam, which is ten times more powerful than Valium®. Potential victims can easily be slipped the odorless, tasteless and colorless drug, leaving them disoriented and eventually unconscious with no memory of what occurred while unconscious. Lisa Celestin, who was raped after someone slipped the drug into her drink at a bar, testified the drug is "the perfect crime in a pill."

H.R. 3905 was referred to the Judiciary and Commerce Committees. Known as the Drug-Induced Rape Act of 1996, it would raise the penalties for possession of flunitrazepam, and would mandate a sentence of "not less than 20 years" and higher fines for anyone who uses a controlled substance "with intent to rape." In testimony before a Senate subcommittee, Rep. Solomon said, "This legislation marks the first time the use of controlled substances would be viewed as a weapon under the law."

Prescribed for anxiety, seizures and sleeping disorders, the drug is sold legally in 64 countries. Its import into the U.S. was banned by Robert Rubin, Secretary of the Treasury, and the U.S. Customs Service on March 5, 1996. Anyone can purchase the drug for pennies per capsule in Mexico and other countries, and drug traffickers resell them in the United States for as much as $5 each. Shockingly, there is a growing market of men who use the drug to sexually assault unsuspecting women. Other drug users use "Rophies" to enhance the "highs" and avoid the "lows" in using other drugs.

The DEA has reported that the drug is involved in more than 2,400 criminal investigations nationwide and that Florida was prosecuting 100 cases in which the drug had been used for date rape. In testimony to the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on Western Hemisphere & Peace Corps Affairs on July 16, Terrance Woodworth, a DEA official urged Congress to classify Rohypnol® as a Schedule I drug. This classification would increase the penalties for trafficking, smuggling and using the drug, putting it in the same category as marijuana, heroin and LSD.

A similar bill, S. 1919, introduced in the Senate by Sen. Paul Coverdell (R-GA) would increase the penalties for rape or any felony by an additional five years if an illegal drug was used in perpetrating the crime. Another bill, S. 1609, pending in the Senate and drafted by Sen. Joseph Biden (D-DE) would reschedule Rohypnol®in Schedule I of the Controlled Substance Act ("Congress Weighs Legislation To Crack Down on Rohypnol," Drug Enforcement Report, July 23, 1996, p. 7).

In California, a bill which would make possession and sale of Rohypnol® punishable by two to four years in prison passed 36-0 in the Senate in May. The bill, SB 2164, was introduced by Sen. Tom Hayden (D- Los Angeles) and was scheduled to be heard in the Assembly Public Safety Committee in June (Carolyn R. Saraspi, "Bill would ban Rohypnol, called the 'date-rape drug'," Los Angeles Daily News, June 8, 1996, p. 5).

Hoffman-La Roche has responded by offering drug testing equipment to law enforcement agencies, stopping direct sales to some Mexican pharmacies and considering reformulating the drug so that it is less solvent in liquids. Vice President of Public Policy and Communications for Hoffman-La Roche, Carolyn R. Glynn, said that Rohypnol® is "a prescription medication that is being misused and it doesn't belong in the U.S."