By Anthony McDaniel, M.D.
Flunitrazepam is marketed as a potent hypnotic and powerful sedative, anticonvulsant, anxiolytic, amnestic, and skeletal muscle relaxant drug most commonly known as Rohypnol. An intermediate acting benzodiazepine derivative, flunitrazepam is prescribed for the treatment of severe insomnia, marketed by Roche. The prescription of flunitrazepam as a hypnotic is generally intended to be for short-term treatment of chronic or severe insomniacs that are not responsive to other hypnotics, especially in inpatients. It is considered to be one of the most effective benzodiazepine hypnotics on a dose basis. Just as with other hypnotics, flunitrazepam should only be used on a short-term basis or in those with chronic insomnia on an occasional basis.
Flunitrazepam is classed as a nitro-benzodiazepine. It is the fluorinated methylamino derivative of nitrazepam. Other nitro-benzodiazepines include nitrazepam – the parent compound – and clonazepam, the chlorinated derivative. Though flunitrazepam is often cited as a date rape drug because of its high potency, strong effects and the ability to cause strong amnesia during its duration of action, investigations into its actual use as a date rape drug have contradicted popular belief. According to research conducted by Michael Robertson from the San Diego Medical Examiner's office and Dr. Mahmoud El Sohly of El Sohly Laboratories, test results indicated that flunitrazepam was only used in around 1% of reported date rapes according to Robertson and 0.33% according to urine lab tests done by El Sohly.
Flunitrazepam is known to induce anterograde amnesia in sufficient doses; 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 be unable 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 past. 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, and sometimes 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 provide appropriate biological samples for testing. If a person suspects that he or she is the victim of a flunitrazepam-facilitated rape, he or she should get laboratory testing for flunitrazepam as soon as possible. In recent news it has been discovered that scientists can now detect flunitrazepam and related compounds in urine at least up to 5 days after administration of a single dose of Rohypnol and up to a month in hair.
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