A Halifax woman recently shared the scary realities of being unwillingly drugged at a bar.
Josée Saulnier, a college student, said she found herself laying on her bed unable to move and in full-body tremors after a night out to celebrate her 20th birthday.
The young woman said that after a few drinks and a shot, she started to feel strange, so her friends took her home. When tremors started, her friends called 911.
“I had no control of my motor skills nor could I stand up on my own, walk, or see properly,” Saulnier wrote on Facebook.
Unfortunately, drink-tampering incidents like Saulnier’s are not that uncommon.
A recent study of more than 6,000 students at U.S. universities found that more than one in 13 students reported being drugged.
For women, researchers found being drugged was associated with more negative outcomes, including sexual assault, blacking out and getting sick.
People may drug someone’s drink because it lowers their ability to resist sexual assault, as well as affect their memory, said Robert Powers, a forensic toxicologist and professor of forensic science at the University of New Haven.
“Basically, any drug that can produce significant central nervous system depression… can be used as a drug in sexual assault,” he said.
What are common date rape drugs?
“Getting roofied” or having “date rape drugs” slipped into your drink can affect both your body and mind, Powers said.
There are different types of drugs people often use in drugging cases, including Rohypnol, which is part of the benzodiazepine or “benzos” family.
Gamma hydroxybutyrate acid (GHB), is another drug used, as are opiates. These drugs are often mixed with alcohol, Powers added, pointing out that alcohol on its own is also a factor in assault cases.
The U.S. Office on Women’s Health adds that “any type of drug, including marijuana, cocaine, or prescription or over-the-counter drugs like antidepressants, tranquilizers, or sleeping aids” can be used in drugging incidents.
What do date rape drugs do to the body?
Powers explained drugs used to spike drinks often decrease your level of consciousness. Because they can be odourless or tasteless in alcohol, it can be hard to know if something was slipped in a drink.
When in its liquid form, GHB looks like water and Rohypnol is often a small tablet that easily dissolves in drinks.
“They act on the body to mimic the activity of the body’s natural, calmed-down ‘go to sleep’ chemical,” Powers said.
If someone is unknowingly drugged, they may feel dizzy, nauseous, sleepy, confused or have slurred speech, said Dr. Susan McNair, the medical director of the Regional Sexual and Domestic Violence Treatment Program at St. Joseph’s Hospital in London, Ont.
Like Saulnier experienced, muscles may also be affected and some people even pass out.
Drugs like Rohypnol and GHB can start to effect the body “within minutes” of ingestion, McNair said.
Powers said because these drugs also affect memory, it is harder for those drugged to remember what happened to them. Unlike alcohol, which affects your ability to form short-term memories, date rape drugs can cause “retrograde amnesia.”
“They can affect your memory of what happened even immediately before you took the drug,” Powers explained.
This makes it hard for survivors of drugging and/or drugging-related sexual assault to piece together what happened to them, experts said.
“They won’t remember anything until they wake up, let’s say, in somebody else’s bed or with someone beside them in a compromising position many hours later,” McNair said.
What to do if you think you were drugged
If you suspect you were drugged and/or sexually assaulted, it is important to get help right away. Call 911 or get friends to take you to the hospital, if possible.
Medical examiners can collect evidence and get you the help you need.
You can also ask to be tested at the hospital for drugs, Powers said. If you believe you were assaulted, this testing can be very important.
The effects of such drugs and how long they stay in the body depend on drug type, how much was ingested and how much alcohol was involved, Powers said.
“GHB is a very quickly acting drug,” he said.
McNair added that because being drugged can be a traumatizing experience, it’s vital to get support through a sexual assault centre or hospital. She also said confiding in a friend can offer emotional comfort.