DEA Congressional Testimony
Note: This document may not reflect changes made in actual delivery.
Mr. Chairman and Members of the Subcommittee: it is a pleasure to appear before you today to discuss the significant problems that have emerged in the last few years as a result of the abuse and trafficking of the powerful sedative Rohypnol.
In recent years, the drug flunitrazepam, more popularly known by its trade name Rohypnol, has emerged as a significant abuse and trafficking problem in the United States. In fact, the 1996 National Drug Control Strategy contains a section on Rohypnol. This drug is not approved by the Food and Drug Administration for marketing in this country, and is smuggled into the U.S. from Mexico and various Latin American countries.
Abuse of this drug has created a serious health threat to both the abuser and the community. Untold numbers of unsuspecting young women are being victimized and abused by criminals who spike their drinks with Rohypnol, so much that Rohypnol has gained notoriety as the "date rape" drug.
As DEA's Deputy Director of Diversion Control, I am responsible for the control and regulation for chemicals and legitimate pharmaceutical drugs under the Controlled Substances Act. Rohypnol is currently listed in Schedule IV of the Federal Controlled Substances Act. Schedule IV ordinarily includes substances with a low potential for abuse, and substances that have a currently accepted medical use for treatment in the United States. Rohypnol meets neither of these requirements. Rohypnol was placed in Schedule IV in 1984, following international control of the drug under the Convention on Psychotropic Substances.
It has recently become clear that the current level of control is not adequate to combat abuse and trafficking of this drug. As a result, DEA is seeking to move flunitrazepam, the active ingredient in Rohypnol to Schedule I, a more restrictive schedule, which includes drugs with a high potential for abuse and no accepted medical use in the United States. Other drugs currently included in Schedule I are heroin. marijuana, and LSD.
What is Rohypnol?
Flunitrazepam is a tranquilizer developed in the 1960s and early 1970s by Hoffman-La Roche, Inc., and first marketed under the trade name Rohypnol in Switzerland in 1975. Rohypnol is 10 to 20 times more potent than Valium (diazepam). This class of drugs is used to treat anxiety, convulsions, muscle tension and sleep disorders. Its powerful sedative effects can last up to 12 hours, with some residual effects occurring as late as 24 hours later.
Low doses of Rohypnol may cause drowsiness, dizziness, motor incoordination, memory loss, gastrointestinal upsets, headache, reduced blood pressure, visual disturbances, dry mouth, and hangover. Higher doses can cause coma, respiratory depression, and even death. In southern Florida, six deaths occurred in which flunitrazepam use was found during autopsy.
Rohypnol impairs mental judgment and reaction time, and individuals who drive under its influence increase their chances of automobile accidents. Law enforcement officers have frequently reported observing severely impaired driving ability in motorists who have used Rohypnol along with small amounts of alcohol.
Today, Rohypnol is legally marketed in 64 countries in Europe, South America, Africa, the Middle East and Asia. Although Rohypnol is the most common trade name product containing flunitrazepam, in many countries there are additional generic and trade name products. Rohypnol is abused in many counties where it is approved for marketing. Much of the abuse in these countries involves heroin addicts, and recently DEA has become aware of the abuse of Rohypnol in Mexico and Colombia. Use and Abuse in the United States
The effects of Rohypnol, also referred to as "Rophies," "Roofies," "Ropes," and "Roach-2," are similar to alcohol intoxication, and there are three distinct patterns of abuse of this drug; alone for its intoxicating effects; in combination with other drugs; and for the purpose of rape.
Those who abuse Rohypnol include middle school and high school students, college students, rave party attendees, and heroin and cocaine addicts. The middle school, high school and college students either use Rohypnol alone or more commonly in combination with alcohol or marijuana. Those who attend rave parties often take amphetamines to stay awake throughout the night and may take Rohypnol tablets to ease the effects of the amphetamine use. Heroin addicts use Rohypnol to potentiate the effects of heroin, while cocaine addicts use it to modulate the effects of cocaine binges.
Sexual predators and street gangs take advantage of the sedative and memory loss effects of Rohypnol to incapacitate women and commit sexual assault. The severe mental incapacitation, along with the amnesia produced by Rohypnol, makes it difficult, if not altogether impossible, for the rape victim to recall the circumstances surrounding her sexual assault.
The use of Rohypnol to commit sexual assault has earned it the street names of the "Forget Pill," the "Date-Rape Drug," "Trip-and-Fall," and "Mind-Erasers." In one recent case in Broward County, Florida, a convicted rapist boasted of using Rohypnol to rape as many as 20 different women. Adding to the complexity of the problem of Rohypnol use in the commission of rape, is the victim's difficulty in remembering facts surrounding the incident, compounding the problem of successful rape prosecution for law enforcement agencies. In Texas, street gangs have been known to administer Rohypnol to females in order to commit gang rape as part of initiation into the gang.
Trafficking of Rohypnol
Since the mid-1980s, Rohypnol has been found in the illicit drug traffick of many countries. Studies completed by the World Health Organization in 1990 and 1994 revealed at least 35 different countries in Europe, Asia, South America, Africa and the Middle East in which Rohypnol was sold illegally.
On May 4, 1995, near London, England, authorities seized a record 100,000 Rohypnol tablets from the owner of a pharmaceutical distributor. The investigation revealed that the product had been manufactured in Belgium and was intended for distribution in Egypt.
Between 1985 and 1991, DEA had three cases or less each year involving Rohypnol. In 1993, that number climbed to 15, primarily in Texas and Florida. By 1995, DEA had 38 Rohypnol investigations. By March 1996, DEA had initiated 108 cases, and the United States Customs Service had 271 cases. Nationwide, state and local law enforcement reported 2,067 cases involving the illegal distribution or possession of Rohypnol. The street price for a 2-milligram Rohypnol tablet ranges from $1.75 to $5.00.
In Florida, there has been a dramatic increase in the distribution of Rohypnol. Between 1990 and 1992, there were 14 state and local law enforcement cases involving flunitrazepam. By 1995, that number had risen to 480--an increase of over 3,000 percent. Prior to 1994, the cases were located almost exclusively in Dade County, Florida.
By 1995, the distribution of Rohypnol had spread throughout the state. Rohypnol is smuggled into Florida from Colombia and other Latin American countries through the use of international mail, courier services, by passengers on commercial airlines.
Due to this widespread abuse, which presents an imminent danger to the public, Robert A. Butterworth, Attorney General of the State of Florida, moved to adopt emergency legislation which transferred flunitrazepam to Schedule I(a) of the Florida Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act. This action significantly enhances the penalties for abuse and trafficking in flunitrazepam.
Texas has also been the site of large increases in the distribution of Rohypnol. In 1990 and 1991, DEA documented eight cases involving Rohypnol. By 1993, the number of cases increased to 169 cases, and by 1995, the number of cases had nearly tripled to 483 cases and distribution had spread throughout the state.
Rohypnol enters Texas by two methods: ( l ) Simple smuggling across the U.S. - Mexico border; or (2) the abuse of the provisions of 21 USC 956(a), which exempts from the requirements of the Controlled Substances Act an individual who legally possesses a controlled substance for personal medical use.
Rohypnol is a prime example of unapproved drugs which enter the United States under this exemption. Abuse of this provision significantly contributed to the spread of Rohypnol throughout the United States. Quantities of Rohypnol and other controlled drugs were being carried from Mexico across our border after being declared to United States Customs. In mid-1995, a three-week survey at the Laredo, Texas, footbridge disclosed that Rohypnol tablets ( 101,700) were declared on 796 of the 1,678 declarations filed with United States Customs and subsequently legally entered the United States.
The Federal Controlled Substances Act allows for this under the personal use exemption of 21 USC 956 and 21 CFR 13 1 1.27. DEA officials have met with officials from U.S. Customs and the Food and Drug Administration. Based on the provisions of the Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act, which prohibits the introduction of drugs not approved for use in the United States, Customs is now prohibiting the importation of flunitrazepam.
Since mid-1995, DEA laboratory examinations have confirmed that all DEA domestic cases involving Rohypnol has involved the Hoffman-La Roche brand.
DEA Response and Proposals
In response to the increased threat to our communities and citizens posed by Rohypnol abuse and trafficking, DEA has taken several specific actions.
First of all, DEA has begun the administrative process to move flunitrazepam from Schedule IV to Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act, which imposes more severe punishment for those trafficking in this illegal drug.
Second, DEA has proposed changes to the regulations which will drastically reduce the amount and number of controlled substances that may enter the United States for personal medical use.
Third, DEA has initiated numerous investigations of major traffickers.
Fourth, to address the problem of individuals abusing the personal use exemption, early this year, DEA, Customs, and the FDA formed a working group to formulate policy governing the entry of pharmaceutical controlled substances into the United States.
Finally, DEA has developed and circulated an information brochure on flunitrazepam which details the distribution and abuse of this drug.
In addition to these steps, the Administration has proposed legislation that would give the Attorney General the authority to administratively reschedule Rohypnol without engaging in the administrative procedures that are normally required for rescheduling a drug on the Controlled Substances list.
Mr. Chairman and Members of the Committee, DEA considers the abuse and trafficking of Rohypnol to be an extremely important issue with the potential for significant and devastating effects on the people of this country.
We appreciate your support and concern in this matter, and look forward to working with this Committee and the Congress to prevent Rohypnol from reaching the epidemic proportions we've seen with the abuse of crack cocaine and methamphetamine.