The lowdown on Rohypnol (Roofies)

Dear Alice,

I have heard about pills one can take to increase the effects of alcohol while lowering the actual consumption level (in essence, getting drunk off of one beer). I think the pill might be called roche (I don't know how it is spelled — pronounced row-shay). Could you describe more about this pill and its dangers?

— Curious and Concerned

Dear Curious and Concerned, 

You may be referring to the drug flunitrazepam commonly known by its brand name Rohypnol. Rohypnol also has many street-names such as "roofies," "roofenol," "roche," "La Rocha," the “date rape” drug, and the “forget pill,” among others. This sedative—commonly prescribed to treat insomnia—increases the effects of alcohol by further decreasing inhibition and increasing sleepiness and memory loss. Although it's still legally manufactured in other countries, Rohypnol is illegal for purchase in the United States (US) due to its use in facilitating sexual assault. Read on for more information about the highs and lows of flunitrazepam. 

In the 1970s, flunitrazepam was developed as a sedative to be used during surgery and to treat patients' anxiety or insomnia. Not long after development, the recommended dose was cut in half due to the intensity and speed with which the drug took effect on individuals. While flunitrazepam was designed to work as a muscle relaxant and to decrease anxiety, it also caused various other side effects such as the ability to reduce one’s mental capacities and coordination, cause intense drowsiness, create confusion and amnesia, and in extreme cases, could cause blackouts, labored breathing, and lethargy. 

In addition to its medical uses, some individuals choose to take flunitrazepam for the euphoric feelings it can produce. When used in large quantities, roofies have also been found to cause sleep, coma, and, in extreme cases, death. With persistent use comes the need to increase one’s dose over time to produce the desired sensations. While it’s rare that someone can overdose on “roofenol” alone, the likelihood of overdose goes up when this “forget pill” is ingested alongside alcohol or other central nervous system (CNS) depressants. If you noticed that someone may have overdosed (regardless of whether you know it was “roofies” or not), helping the person to vomit or giving them activated charcoal can help purge some of the drug from their body and keep it from absorbing further into the bloodstream. There are also certain medications, called benzodiazepine receptor antagonists that are often used in a clinical setting to counteract or reverse the sedative effects of the drug. 

Because of its ability to be so easily slipped into the drink of an unsuspecting person and therefore used by perpetrators to incapacitate and sexually assault victims, “roofies” were made illegal in the US by the Drug-Induced Rape Prevention and Punishment Act of 1996. However, there are still some countries around the world that allow for the medical use of flunitrazepam, and people in the US continue to access it illegally. 

Unfortunately, the only way to truly prevent sexual assault when it comes to the “date rape” drug, is for perpetrators to stop victimizing and harming others. However, there are some risk management strategies that might be helpful to be aware of in order to better protect yourself. Due to its potential for abuse in sexual assault situations, manufacturers of flunitrazepam reformulated the drug so that it now dissolves more slowly in a beverage, tints the liquid blue, and makes dark colored drinks cloudy. The drug now also has a bitter taste which when dissolved in alcohol makes for an extremely unfortunate tasting drink. Knowing the signs of a roofie-tainted drink may help people recognize when beverages have been spiked. Along with being vigilant about the color, texture, and taste of drinks, it’s also a good idea to keep  an eye on drinks at all times and refuse beverages you didn't see poured or opened to reduce the risk of consuming a tainted beverage. If someone believes they have been “roofied”, many rape crisis centers and hospitals have urine test that can detect the drug for up to 60 hours after ingestion. However, the sooner someone is tested, the higher the potential for a more accurate result. 

Knowing about roofies and their effects can’t stop people who choose to use them to harm others, but it also can’t hurt to be knowledgeable, and aware of the possibilities. Spread the word! 

Last updated Aug 18, 2023
Originally published Apr 26, 1996

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