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Date rape drugs spreading to rural areas

April 21, 1997

By RICHARD F. BELISLE

Staff Writer

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - Date rape drugs such as Rophynol are spreading from metropolitan cities to rural areas, according to an official with a victim's group.

Agencies that track rape cases in Pennsylvania have reported that the drug, used by rapists to sedate their victims, may have been used in 23 suspected cases of date rape.

One of those cases, still unconfirmed, was reported in Franklin County, Pa., said Alecha Cauffman, prevention education specialist with WIN Victim Services. The agency serves victims of sexual and violent crimes in Franklin and Fulton counties.

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The Franklin County case involved a woman who claimed she was the victim of a drug-induced rape in her home. She was given counseling, Cauffman said. She said she didn't know if filed a report with police.

Date rape drugs like Rophynol appear to be spreading, Cauffman said. "Agencies are also feel it's likely to reach colleges and universities. I can easily see it becoming popular at fraternity parties. Most date rapes occur on college campuses," she said.

Rophynol, a powerful prescription sleeping pill for people with serious sleeping disorders.

"The real danger is when it's mixed with alcohol. It can cause blackouts from eight to 12 hours," Cauffman said. "Rophynol dissolves in minutes and it's tasteless and colorless. It may account for many unexplained rapes."

Cauffman said women should be aware that the drug is out there. Diane Bradshaw, a counselor at Wilson College, said she has taught freshmen women and none have heard of the drug.

Rophynol is not available in the United States, but it's being smuggled into the country from Mexico and South America, Cauffman said.

Rophynol is made by Hoffman-LaRoche in Europe, Asia and Latin America, said Gail Safian, spokeswoman at the company's American headquarters in New Jersey. Safian said Rophynol has been sold for 20 years in 80 countries.

Safian said the Rophynol is gaining a somewhat unearned reputation as a date-rape drug in the United States.

"We've never denied that Rophynol isn't out there or that there haven't been rapes with it, but there's been a lot of media hype," Safian said. "They've focused on one drug while there are 40 similar drugs out there," she said.

She said the company has never sought U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval for the drug because it would compete directly with Dalamain, a drug with similar qualities made by Hoffman La-Roche and marketed in the U.S.

Safian said there are several prescription sleep-inducing drugs on the American market just as potent as and very similar to Rophynol. These include Halcion and Restoril, she said.

She said the company is "very concerned" about the reputation Rophynol is getting. It provides free drug testing for anyone who suspects they may have been assaulted while under the drug's influence.

"As of March 12, 150 samples were submitted for testing by people who had reason to believe they were victims of drug-induced rapes. Only three involved Rophynol. Of 20 samples from Pennsylvania three tested for marijuana, one for cocaine and 12 could not be identified," she said.

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