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First Aid for ‘Roofies’ and Similar Drugs

Guidance From an Emergency Medicine Physician

Warning: This article contains mentions of drug-facilitated sexual assault and rape.

Flunitrazepam, often referred to by its brand name Rohypnol® or its slang name "roofies," is one of the most common drugs used in drug-facilitated sexual assault (DFSA). But it is not the only means through which DFSA occurs, explains Patrick M. Lank, MD, a Northwestern Medical Group Emergency Medicine physician who has expertise in clinical toxicology.

"Flunitrazepam is not the only agent we see when someone comes into the Emergency Department related to DFSA," he says. "There are other agents that we might find, such as gamma-hydroxybutyrate (GHB) and ketamine. But the most common agent is actually alcohol."

In cases involving alcohol, perpetrators often take advantage of someone's voluntary decision to drink alcohol. Drugs, on the other hand, may involve forced ingestion: Victims can be unaware of their consumption of the drug, as agents can be slipped into drinks, and are often tasteless and odorless.

When Ingestion Occurs

It's important to involve medical professionals if a suspected drugging or DFSA has occurred. Dr. Lank shares some key reminders:

  • If you suspect that you or someone else has ingested a DFSA-related agent, call 911. Make sure the person is with a trusted friend or family member, and stay with them until emergency personnel arrive.
  • Let the care team know if a suspected drugging and/or sexual assault has occurred. From there, they might take the following action:
    • Ask the patient if they would like the hospital to contact the police. 
    • Ask the patient if they would like for them to use an evidence collection kit, or “rape kit,” to perform a sexual assault medical forensic exam.
  • Medical staff conduct the examination, and any or all parts of the examination can be declined at any point. Know that testing for substances and collection of evidence within the rape kit is handled by police and that the results will not be part of the medical record.

Patients typically will be held at the hospital for medical observation until their physician determines they can safely go home.

No One Deserves Sexual Assault

Even if you choose to use drugs or alcohol, you are not choosing sexual assault. No one deserves to be sexually assaulted. Remember, if you believe you have been drugged and/or sexually assaulted, call 911 to get the medical care you need.