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U.S. Bans Importation of Rohypnol®


April 1996

Acting on reports of growing use of the "date rape drug," U.S. officials banned the importation of Rohypnol® (Associated Press, "Import of 'Date-Rape' Pill Banned," Washington Post, March 3, 1996, p. A2; Associated Press, "Importing of 'Date-Rape Pill' is Barred by the U.S.," Philadelphia Inquirer, March 6, 1996, p. A11).

Robert Rubin, secretary of the Treasury, said the U.S. Customs Service has been ordered to seize any amount of Rohypnol® shipped in the mail or found on someone trying to enter the U.S. Before the action, incoming travelers with foreign prescriptions were allowed to carry a three-month supply of the drug for their personal use.

The Drug Enforcement Administration is also taking action, seeking to reclassify the drug from schedule IV to schedule I.

Rohypnol®, the brand name of flunitrazepam, is a member of the benzodiazepine family and is not legal in the U.S. Because it is not approved by the FDA, physicians cannot write a prescription for it. It is ten times more potent than Valium® and causes muscle relaxation and can cause amnesia for up to 8 hours. It is manufactured and distributed in Europe and Latin America by Hoffman-La Roche to treat sleep disorders (for background, see "Use of Rohypnol® Spreading, NIDA Panel Says," NewsBriefs, September 1995, p. 23; "Abuse of Sedative 'Rophies' on the Rise in Florida," NewsBriefs, February 1995, p. 20).

Treatment providers say Rohypnol® (pronounced "row-hip-nol") is abused in conjunction with other drugs, notably alcohol and marijuana, to increase the level of intoxication. It has also reportedly been used with cocaine to temper the effects of coming off of that drug. On the street, it markets for $3-$5 per pill, and is sometimes sold in the original packaging.

Reports of abuse of the drug in Texas, Florida, and California have been increasing since 1994. In announcing their decision, the Treasury Department pointed to many recent reports of women who were drugged and raped by their dates.

Hoffman La Roche announced it would also be taking steps to curb use in the U.S. by limiting distribution of the drug in Mexico. The company also said it would withdraw the 2 milligram dose form from the market and distribute only the less potent 1 milligram tablet.