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Article Summary

Information on GHB and Rohypnol

GHB and Rohypnol are predominantly central nervous system depressants. Because they are often colorless, tasteless, and odorless, they can be added to beverages and ingested unknowingly.

These substances emerged a few years ago as "drug-assisted assault" drugs.* Because of concern about their abuse, Congress passed the "Drug-Induced Rape Prevention and Punishment Act of 1996" in October 1996. This legislation increased Federal penalties for use of any controlled substance to aid in sexual assault.

GHB

Since about 1990, GHB (gamma hydroxybutyrate) has been abused in the U.S. for its euphoric, sedative, and anabolic (body building) effects. It is a central nervous system depressant that was widely available over-the-counter in health food stores during the 1980s and until 1992. It was purchased largely by body builders to aid in fat reduction and muscle building. Street names include "liquid ecstasy," "soap," "easy lay," "vita-G," and "Georgia home boy."

Coma and seizures can occur following abuse of GHB. Combining abuse of GHB with other drugs such as alcohol can result in nausea and breathing difficulties. GHB may also produce withdrawal effects, including insomnia, anxiety, tremors, and sweating. GHB and two of its precursors, gamma butyrolactone (GBL) and 1,4 butanediol (BD), have been involved in poisonings, overdoses, date rapes, and deaths.

Rohypnol

Rohypnol, a trade name for flunitrazepam, belongs to a class of drugs known as benzodiazepines. Rohypnol can incapacitate victims and prevent them from resisting sexual assault. It can produce "anterograde amnesia," which means individuals may not remember events they experienced while under the effects of the drug. Also, Rohypnol may be lethal when mixed with alcohol and/or other depressants.

Rohypnol is not approved for use in the United States, and its importation is banned. Illicit abuse of Rohypnol started appearing in the United States in the early 1990s, where it became known as "rophies," "roofies," "roach," and "rope."

Abuse of two other similar drugs appears to have replaced Rohypnol abuse in some regions of the country. These are clonazepam, marketed in the U.S. as Klonopin and in Mexico as Rivotril, and alprazolam, marketed as Xanax.


Extent of Use

According to the 2005 Monitoring the Future** (MTF) survey, NIDA's annual survey of drug use among the Nation's high school students, 0.7 percent of 8th-graders, 0.5 percent of 10th-graders, and 1.2 percent of 12th-graders reported annual*** use of Rohypnol.

Annual use of GHB among 8th-graders and 10th-graders remained relatively stable from 2004 to 2005, but 12th-graders reported a significant decrease according to MTF findings. In 2005, 0.5 percent of 8th-graders, 0.8 percent of 10th-graders, and 1.1 percent of 12th-graders reported annual use.

Hospital emergency department (ED) episodes involving GHB were estimated at 990 for the third and fourth quarters of 2003. Males made up the majority of patients involved in these mentions (52 percent), as did Whites (86 percent). The two age categories with the highest number of mentions were the 18–20 age group and the 35–44 age group, each estimated at 28 percent of total mentions. Among ED mentions involving club drugs, however, only MDMA (ecstasy) is cited more frequently than GHB.****

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