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Fact Sheet: Drug Facilitated Sexual Assault

April 28, 2000

In recent years, drug-facilitated sexual assault has become a growing concern among health and community educators. A number of drugs have become known as "date rape drugs" or "predatory drugs" because they are used to incapacitate individuals for the purposes of committing a crime, often sexual assault.

Alcohol is the drug most commonly associated with sexual assault, but incidents involving other drugs are on the rise. These drugs, also called "club drugs" because of their popularity in dance clubs and bars, can be unknowingly given to a victim, incapacitate the victim, and prevent him/her from resisting during a sexual assault or other crime. They can also produce amnesia causing a victim to be unclear of what, if any, crime was committed.

These drugs are particularly dangerous when combined with alcohol. As with any coerced sexual activity, victims of drug-facilitated sexual assault cannot protect themselves from HIV, other sexually transmitted diseases, or unintended pregnancy.

SIECUS has prepared this fact sheet to provide information on two of the most common predatory drugs, as well as suggestions for preventing drug-facilitated crimes.



  • GHB stands for gamma hydroxybutyrate, a central nervous system sedative often referred to by other names such as "Grievous Bodily Harm" and "Liquid Ecstasy."

  • GHB was once sold in health food stores as a performance enhancer for body builders because it was believed to stimulate the production of human growth hormone. In 1990, the FDA banned the use of GHB because of reports of severe, uncontrollable side effects.

  • GHB can produce drowsiness, dizziness, nausea, unconsciousness, seizures, severe respiratory depression, and coma. Overdose of GHB can occur quickly and can be fatal. Since 1990, there have been 5,700 documented cases of GHB abuse and more than 30 reported sexual assaults and 65 deaths attributed to this drug.

  • Most of the GHB used today is a "homemade" mix of various chemical ingredients, including solvents. Homemade GHB is dangerous in part because there are significant differences in potency, purity, and concentration. The same amount taken from two separate batches can have very different effects.

  • GHB is available both in liquid and powder forms. It is usually odorless and tasteless and therefore can be easily slipped unnoticed into a drink.


  • Rohypnol is a brand name for Flunitrazepam, a powerful sedative that is often referred to by other names such as "roofies" and "roach."

  • Rohypnol is not legally available for prescription in the United States but is legal in 60 countries for the treatment of insomnia.

  • Rohypnol may cause users to feel intoxicated; they may have slurred speech, impaired judgment, and difficulty walking. The effects are often felt within 10 minutes and can last up to eight hours.

  • Rohypnol can cause deep sedation, respiratory distress, and blackouts that can last up to 24 hours. There is a potential for overdose or death to occur, especially when mixed with alcohol or other drugs.

  • Rohypnol is available in small white tablets that can be taken orally, ground up in a drink, or snorted. In 1997, the manufacturer of Rohypnol changed the formula so that it turns blue/green and can be more easily detected when added to liquids.

Protective Measures for Teens

  • Drink from tamper-proof bottles and cans and insist on opening them.

  • Insist on pouring or watching while any drink is mixed or prepared. Do not drink from group drinks such as punch bowls.

  • Keep an eye on your drink or open soda can, do not trust someone to watch it for you.

  • If you think you've been drugged, do not be afraid to seek medical attention.

  • If someone passes out and you suspect predatory drugs, call for medical attention immediately and explain your concerns.


  1. M. McNeil, "Drug-Facilitated Rape: Be Aware and Prepared," College Health in Action, Oct./Nov./Dec. 1998.

  2. S. Lyman, et al, " 'Date Rape Drugs': A Growing Concern," Journal of Health Education, Sept/Oct. 1998.

  3. Office of National Drug Policy Information Clearinghouse, Fact Sheet: Rohypnol, June 1998.

  4. Rapists Are Using a New Weapon to Overpower Victims, Rape Treatment Center, Santa Monica -- UCLA Medical Center, 1997.

Web Resources This Web site is a service of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). The term "club drugs" refers to those drugs commonly used by young adults at all night dance parties, "raves," and bars. They include MDMA (Ecstasy), GHB, Rohypnol, Ketamine (Special K), Methamphetamine, and LSD. NIDA-supported research has shown that use of club drugs can cause serious health problems and, in some cases, even death.

This Web site provides information on each of these drugs, as well as links to NIDA newsletters, publications, and other related information on the Web. The Partnership for a Drug-Free America (PDFA) is a private, non-profit coalition of professionals from the communications industry. The organization's mission is to reduce the demand for illicit drugs in America. This Web site provides information on various drugs, answers frequently asked questions, and includes resources for parents. The National Substance Abuse Web Index (NSAWI) has been developed by the National Clearinghouse for Alcohol and Drug Information (NCADI) to assist the substance abuse prevention and treatment communities in obtaining relevant, authoritative information available on the World Wide Web. This index of Web sites includes only those sites that are considered by NCADI to be the most useful for prevention and treatment.

All Web sites included are fully indexed and searchable.

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This article was provided by Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States. It is a part of the publication SHOP Talk: School Health Opportunities and Progress Bulletin.
See Also
Ask Our Expert, David Fawcett, Ph.D., L.C.S.W., About Substance Use and HIV
More on Recreational Drug Use and HIV/AIDS