What Every Woman Needs To Know About Being Roofied

Photo: Courtesy of the CW.
This story was originally published on January 12, 2017.
On last night’s episode of Riverdale, Nick St. Clair roofies Cheryl Blossom’s drink and attempts to rape her. Luckily, Veronica and a few members of Josie and the Pussycats find Nick taking his clothes off while standing over Cheryl’s body, and stop him. Sadly, this plot isn’t as far-fetched as some of the other Riverdale episodes, and this is something that happens a lot in real life.
"My coworker and I were splitting a pitcher of margaritas and some guac at a rooftop bar, and a guy at the table next to us accidentally elbowed me in the head — or so I thought — and then, very jovially, said he’d buy us a round of shots to make up for it," Kristina King, a 24-year-old living in New York, recounts of the night she was unexpectedly roofied. "He came back a few minutes later and set a shot down in front of each of us."
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Just minutes after taking the shot, King blacked out and can’t remember anything that followed. Her coworker told her she was "acting drunk" but not unreasonable, and told her that after they said goodbye, King took a cab home.
"My next memory is waking up in the hospital, covered in vomit, with an IV in and no recollection of how I got there," King says. She walked home at 4 a.m. with a broken phone and no memory of how the night went.
It's possible that King was non-consensually drugged using Rohypnol, a common date rape drug traditionally known as a "roofie." It's illegal in the United States, but that doesn’t mean it’s difficult to come by, especially since it's relatively cheap — it's reportedly sold for less than $5 a tablet. (Though nonconsensual drugging isn't always via roofies — other drugs, like Ketamine ("Special K") and GHB ("Liquid Ecstasy"), are also common.)
When ingested, Rohypnol causes sleepiness and amnesia, which is why people may wake up and not remember what happened, Rana Biary, MD, explains. "It functions very similar to Xanax or Ativan," she says. All of these drugs are benzodiazepines, sometimes called benzos, which essentially function as sedatives.
We asked a few experts about what people should know about Rohypnol — and what to do in the event that you or someone you know gets roofied. To be totally clear: If someone drugs you, it is absolutely not your fault in any way, and there's no foolproof way to ensure that it never happens. But it's also true that there are a few smart strategies that may reduce your risk. It's shitty that we have to keep these things in mind, but that's the world we're living in. Ideally, rape would be prevented by people not drugging and raping other people.
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Photo: Sunny Shokrae
How to reduce the risk

Get your drink yourself.
To prevent anyone from slipping anything in your drink, make sure that you order your drinks yourself and actually watch them being made, Dr. Biary says. If someone offers to get you a drink, insist on watching the drink as it's being poured.

"That may seem rude, but if this person cares about you, they’ll understand," Dr. Biary says.
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Photo: Eric Helgas
How to reduce the risk

Look at your drink before taking your first sip.
Notice if your drink looks different than usual, and don't drink it if you have any concerns. Rohypnol tablets will often dye a drink blue, and Dr. Biary warns that some people may add a roofie to a colored cocktail so other people won’t notice the blue color. But keep in mind that generic versions of the drug may not have the blue dye on their capsules, so if you’re suspicious about a clear drink, don’t drink it.
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Photo: Alexandra Gavillet
How to reduce the risk

Adhere to a buddy system.
If you're at a bar with friends, agree to make sure you each get home safely, and keep tabs on each other throughout the night. And don't forget the importance of the buddy system when going on blind dates.

"Especially if you’re going on a Tinder date or a date with someone you don’t know, have a buddy who knows where you are," Dr. Biary recommends.

You can even arrange to text a friend intermittently throughout the night, so they know you are okay and they’re on-call if you need any help.
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Photo: Winnie Au
How to reduce the risk

Help keep an eye out for others.
Pamela Donovan, PhD, and author of Drink Spiking and Predatory Drugging: A Modern History says that bystanders can be very important in spotting roofies. She recounts a case in which three women in a bar caught a man putting a liquid in his date’s drink and told the bartender, thus foiling his crime. In this instance, the victim told police that the assailant was her best friend.

"That’s why she trusted him alone with her drink," Dr. Donovan says. "But the other patrons saw it, said something, and a crime was interrupted.”

Look out for yourself, your friends, and other women whenever possible.
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Photo: Sunny Shokrae
What to do if you think someone's been roofied

Know that Rohypnol kicks in fast.
If someone did slip something in a drink, the effects will be noticeable within half an hour. "It depends on how much you’ve eaten, and if you’ve had alcohol earlier, the effects could be faster," Dr. Biary says. It also depends on how large the dose of Rohypnol was.
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Photo: Rockie Nolan
What to do if you think someone's been roofied

Go to the emergency room for immediate attention.
If you need to call 911 for yourself or a friend, do so. Dr. Biary says that the combination of Rohypnol and alcohol can affect breathing, and with any breathing concerns, you should call 911.

"The emergency room is a safe place," Dr. Biary says. "Don’t hesitate to come and get help. You shouldn’t feel embarrassed or ashamed." In addition to medical care, emergency rooms are staffed with social workers and police officers you can talk to.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends that you don't urinate, douche, bathe, brush your teeth, wash your hands, change clothes, or eat or drink before you go to the ER, since these things can help doctors find evidence if you've been sexually assaulted. If you want to be tested for Rohypnol, it can be detected in urine for up to 72 hours.
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Photo: Alexandra Gavillet
What to do if you think someone's been roofied

Never leave your friend alone, even to ask for help.
"If your friend is complaining about feeling sleepy at a bar, don’t leave them by themselves," Dr. Biary says. Opportunistic predators may use this time time to get the intoxicated victim alone. Whether or not the person who roofied your friend is still around, it's crucial that you keep your friend by your side at all times.
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Photo: Alexandra Gavillet
What to do if you think someone's been roofied

Trust your instincts.
"People should seek help based on their symptoms and experiences, not on trying to guess whether alcohol or drugging is the problem," Dr. Donovan says. "If something does not seem right, get out of the situation, using an excuse if necessary."

Dr. Donovan warns people not to be reluctant to seek medical help, especially if you feel out of control or unable to use general motor skills or stay conscious.
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Photo: Jessica Nash
What to do if you think someone's been roofied

Know that Rohypnol doesn't have lasting negative medical effects.
Once the drug wears off, the person who ingested it shouldn’t have any medical after effects. That said, roofies are considered date rape drugs for a reason, and sexual assault is a huge concern when someone's been roofied, whether or not they remember what happened.

"The effects of the drug will be gone in a day or two, but the biggest concern is what happens to you," Dr. Biary says.

Additionally, a survivor could have been exposed to STIs. If you or a friend wakes up not remembering what happened, the best course of action is to seek medical help.

If you have experienced sexual violence and are in need of crisis support, please call the RAINN Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).
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Photo: Winnie Au
What to do if you think someone's been roofied

Recognize that being roofied is not the drugged person's fault.
"Women always feel guilty," Dr. Biary says, adding that an essential part of the recovery process is "recognizing that this is not your fault, that you are a victim and you did nothing wrong."

Dr. Donovan also points out that not remembering the incident can have negative mental effects on people who've been roofied.

"They may blame themselves, which is very common among sexual assault [survivors]," she says. "One of the most psychologically searing and lingering traumas is not knowing exactly what happened."
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Photo: Rockie Nolan
What to do if you think someone's been roofied

Seek out mental health help, if needed.
Clinical psychologist Nancy Irwin, PhD, of Seasons Recovery Centers says that the most common effects of being roofied include self-blame, shame, powerlessness, lack of trust, as well as potential lingering depression and anxiety. So it's crucial that people reach out for professional help if they're struggling after being roofied.

To support a friend who has been roofied, Dr. Irwin says that you can’t be your friend’s therapist, but you can help them find a support group or therapist and be "compassionate and supportive of the process." And if cost is an issue, there are plenty of free services out there for people in need of support.

If you are experiencing anxiety and are in need of crisis support, please call the Crisis Call Center’s 24-hour hotline at 1-775-784-8090.

If you are experiencing depression and need support, please call the National Depressive/Manic-Depressive Association Hotline at 1-800-826-3632 or the Crisis Call Center’s 24-hour hotline at 1-775-784-8090.
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