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What you need to know about date rape drugs

WATCH ABOVE: Amid disturbing reports that Bill Cosby admitted to using Qualuudes to allegedly give to young women he wanted to have sex with, new concerns have arisen over the use of date rape drugs. Dr. Samir Gupta has the story in this week’s On Call.

More On Call with Dr. Samir Gupta stories on Globalnews.ca

TORONTO — Disturbing news has surfaced that comedian Bill Cosby admitted to using “Quaaludes” with the intent of giving them to young women he wanted to have sex with, and that he gave the sedative to at least one woman and “other people.”

Given that I am getting many questions about this drug, we decided to discuss date rape drugs in today’s segment.

To begin with, “Quaalude” was the brand name for a drug called methaqualone, which in itself has an interesting history.

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READ MORE: Meet Andrea Constand, Canadian woman Cosby admitted drugging

It was first developed in India as an anti-malarial drug in the 1950s, but was found to have strong hypnotic and sedative effects, which led to re-branding of the drug as “Quaalude” – a combination of the words “quiet interlude.”

It ended up becoming a popular sleeping aid in the 1960s and 70s.

Unfortunately, it also became a very addictive recreational drug because of these properties, and ultimately was discontinued in the 1980s.

The drug can certainly cause drowsiness and can increase libido, so it would have been a dangerous substance for date rape.

In fact, a variety of different drugs with similar hypnotic and sedative properties have been reported in date rape over the years, and usage statistics have varied largely according to drug availability.

READ MORE: Cosby’s quaalude confession could bolster defamation suit

Benzodiazepine drugs are hypnotics, sedatives, anxiolytics (reduce anxiety), and muscle relaxants.

The one we hear about a lot is the so called date rape drug , which is flunitrazepam (Rohypnol) (also known as Roofies).

This is colourless, tasteless, and odourless, is very potent, and causes what’s called anterograde amnesia – which basically means that the person will forget what happened to them in the few hours after drug consumption (this was the drug used in “The Hangover”).

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In medicine, we use drugs that have this property before performing conscious procedures like colonoscopies, so that patients don’t remember the unpleasant experience.

One can imagine how this can be a very dangerous property for a date rape drug.

Rohypnol was banned in the mid 1990s and would be very rare at this point.

People have also used gamma hydroxybutyrate, or GHB, which is an odourless and almost tasteless hypnotic drug which increases libido and reduces inhibitions.

READ MORE: Excerpts of statements by Bill Cosby in 2005 deposition

The sleeping pill Ambien has very similar properties, and we are seeing an increased frequency of reports of Ambien used in date rape, likely because it is readily available by prescription.

However, it is important to note that the most common date rape drug by far is alcohol.

Alcohol not only renders the victim vulnerable, but also affects sexual behaviour and aggression by the abuser.

Many people also believe that if they wait until the day after to seek medical attention, it is too late to detect the drug.

However, for most of these drugs, that is not actually true.

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The first point to make is that the typical drug or toxin screens used in emergency rooms will not include most of the drugs typically used in date rape.

Accordingly, a victim needs to make sure that the health care professional knows that this is a possibility, because special tests are required.

Most benzodiazepines can be detected for 48 to 72 hours, some longer, and there are special tests for Rohypnol which can detect it several weeks after exposure.

The one that can be tricky is GHB, because it’s not detectable after 8 to 12 hours.

The key is to seek medical help right away if you have any suspicion whatsoever that you may have been given a substance against your will.

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