Like other benzodiazepines (such as Valium, Librium, Xanax, and Halcion), flunitrazepam's pharmacological effects include sedation, muscle relaxation, reduction in anxiety, and prevention of convulsions. However, flunitrazepam's sedative effects are approximately 7 to 10 times more potent than diazepam (Valium). The effects of flunitrazepam appear approximately 15 to 20 minutes after administration and last approximately four to six hours. Some residual effects can be found 12 hours or more after administration.
Flunitrazepam has never been approved for medical use in the United States, and it was placed into Schedule IV of the Controlled Substances Act in 1984. According to FDA Associate Director for Domestic and International Drug Control Nicholas Reuter, M.P.H.2:
Rohypnol was "temporarily controlled in Schedule IV pursuant to a treaty obligation under the 1971 Convention on Psychotropic Substances. At the time flunitrazepam was placed temporarily in Schedule IV . . . there was no evidence of abuse or trafficking of the drug in the United States.
Rohypnol is currently under consideration to be moved to a Schedule I substance, and is considered as such in the States of Florida, Idaho, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oklahoma, and Pennsylvania.
Flunitrazepam as a date rape drug
Flunitrazepam causes partial amnesia; individuals are unable to remember certain events that they experienced while under the influence of the drug. This effect is particularly dangerous when flunitrazepam is used to aid in the commission of sexual assault; victims may not be able to clearly recall the assault, the assailant, or the events surrounding the assault.
It is difficult to estimate just how many flunitrazepam-facilitated rapes have occurred in the United States. Very often, biological samples are taken from the victim at a time when the effects of the drug have already passed and only residual amounts remain in the body fluids. These residual amounts are difficult, if not impossible, to detect using standard screening assays available in the United States. If flunitrazepam exposure is to be detected at all, urine samples need to be collected within 72 hours and subjected to sensitive analytical tests. The problem is compounded by the onset of amnesia after ingestion of the drug, which causes the victim to be uncertain about the facts surrounding the rape. This uncertainty may lead to critical delays or even reluctance to report the rape and to provide appropriate biological samples for toxicology testing. If a person suspects that he or she is the victim of a flunitrazepam-facilitated rape, he or she should get medical testing for flunitrazepam immediately.
Use for theft
In the UK, the use of flunitrazepam and other "date rape" drugs is becoming widespread as a means of sedating victims and stealing from them. It is estimated that up to 2000 men and women are robbed each year after being spiked with powerful sedatives 3, making drug-assisted robbery a more common problem than drug-assisted rape.
In December 2004, Selina Hakki was found guilty of using flunitrazepam to drug wealthy men and rob them of their clothes and accessories in the UK.
Use as a recreational drug
While flunitrazepam has become widely known for its use as a date-rape drug, it is used more frequently for other reasons. It is used by high school students, college students, street gang members, rave party attendees, and heroin and cocaine users (who call a dose of rohypnol a 'roofie') to produce profound intoxication, boost the high of heroin, and modulate the effects of cocaine. Methamphetamine users take the drug to counter meth's side-effects (sleeplessness, paranoia, twitchiness). Flunitrazepam is usually consumed orally, is often combined with alcohol, and is also used by crushing tablets and snorting the powder.
Adverse effects of use
Flunitrazepam is highly addictive. Flunitrazepam use causes several adverse effects in the user, including drowsiness, dizziness, loss of motor control, lack of coordination, slurred speech, confusion, and gastrointestinal disturbances, lasting 12 or more hours. Higher doses produce respiratory depression. Chronic use of flunitrazepam can result in physical dependence and the appearance of withdrawal syndrome when the drug is discontinued. Flunitrazepam impairs cognitive and psychomotor functions affecting reaction time and driving skill. The use of this drug in combination with alcohol is a particular concern as both substances potentiate each other's toxicity.
21 U.S.C. § 841 and 21 U.S.C. § 952 provide for very stiff prison terms for possession of flunitrazepam, including life in prison if death or serious bodily injury results from the use of flunitrazepam.