Detecting Date-Rape Drugs

11936444_10207595149618503_1317516054_nNails. Hair. Makeup. Heels. Dresses. These are all items women usually change when they go out to the town, or to a bar. Having freshly manicured nails can be a confidence booster for some, and an aesthetic pleaser for others. As most college students head off to college, their parents warn them; “Do not take drinks from strangers, as a matter of fact, make sure you get your own of everything…”. Often, they would say “always bring a bathroom buddy so you do not walk alone…” Certainly, any parent would want their child to be aware of their surroundings. New technology such as nail polish and applications for cellphones are being created to encourage an increased sense of awareness while students are out. Sexual violence on almost all college campuses have increased in the past decade. One in four college women will be the victims of sexual assault during her academic career. Seventy-five percent of the men and 55 percent of the women involved in acquaintance rapes were drinking or taking drugs just before the attack [1]. Many college women are targeted more often than not at parties, but it could happen anywhere with certain drugs such as “Rohypnol and GHB, as well as Xanax. Known as “roofies,” these drugs incapacitate victims, making them physically unable to fight back or even scream for help” [2]. The nail polish could help women detect potential predators and drugs they use, rather than completely being blindsided by their presence. Sexual assault is a major issue on college campuses, but a variety of creative techniques and technologies are being developed to warn potential victims against an attack.

Fortunately, a bright group of four undergraduate students at North Carolina State University invented a nail polish date-rape detector called “Undercover Colors.” At the moment, they’ve raised $100,000 to help fund future prototype designs for their nail polish. These groups of men have already won many competitions, including Lulu eGames. The mechanisms are unclear as of now, but it mixes fashion, chemistry and cosmetics to attempt to prevent assault against women. This revolutionary idea often shifts the blame from the victim. By providing evidence, such as the change in color of the nail polish, victims are aware if they have been drugged or date-raped. Take Christina Mac, a tattoo model, for example. She was drugged after her boyfriend, MMA fighter Jon Koppenhaver, beat both Mack and an unidentified man by showing up unannounced to her house. “I have no recollection of how many times I was hit, I just know my injuries that resulted from my beating,” Mack said. “My injuries include 18 broken bones around my eyes, my nose is broken in 2 places, I am missing teeth and several more are broken” [3]. There are many instances where date rape can be prevented if precautions are taken, such as if she could have somehow detected the drugs because she felt uncomfortable in the situation.

Different detective devices exist that can be dropped off into drinks to make sure they’ve not been tampered with, but they may be hard to use without being completely obvious to the perpetrator and giving away the victim [4]. A Canadian company, specifically from Toronto, is in the works of developing an app called “Personal Drink ID.” This app alerts a person’s phone if it detects tampering of their drink with a drug. It is on a device that runs about 3.5 inches and looks like a USB key. It can be placed in and out of a drink and is small enough to fit into a purse [5]. Another New Zealand business company has found a way to detect GHB, Gamma-hydroxybutyrate, which is primarily found in your central nervous system as a depressant. GHB works in such ways that it can be slipped into a drink without any detection and requires no attention, due to its colorless and odorless nature. These researchers are coming up with a way to inadvertently check for a color change in the drink. They found that when they put it up to light, the chemical they added to the drink changed colors and they could detect it. However, once they find a marketable detection kit, they will be able to see darker colored drinks such as colas.

The mechanism of action for GHB is separate than Rohypnol and Ketamine. It’s works mainly on our inhibitory neurotransmitter, gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA). GABA binds to GHB receptors, and the drug acts as a depressant. Depressants cause symptoms such as confusion, motor impairment, and amnesia. GHB is commonly known as Xyrem, a drug used to treat narcolepsy as a prescriptive sedative. GHB can come in a pill or liquid form and can be detected in sweeter drinks. Rohypnol (flunitrazepam) — commonly called “roofie” — is a heavy duty benzodiazepine (up to 10 times stronger than Valium) known as the date rape drug [6]. As a benzodiazepine, or “benzo”, GABA’s signal in the brain is manipulated by Rohypnol through GABA receptors. Through this method, GABA receptors cause sedation and relaxation of the muscles, so Rohypnol is prescribed as treatment for insomnia and anesthesia. This is prescribed strictly for short-term use. This however, is not legal in the US. Thirdly, ketamine, is legally used as an anesthetic mostly in veterinary medicine [6]. By blocking NMDA glutamate receptors involved in learning acquisition and memory, it can cause a state of unawareness and loss of coordination due to the blockage of the receptors. Ketamines can produce hallucinogenic effects at higher doses and amnesia. They are usually fast acting and found in found in liquid or powder form, ketamine is extremely fast-acting [6]. All of these drugs give signs of dizziness and amnesia so you will not remember what happened the next day. There are limitations to detection kits because they must be detected within 72 hours for Rohypnol and 12 for GHB.

In conclusion, there are my upcoming technologies to identify and allow students to become more aware about sexual violence. Through different apps or cosmetic items, combating sexual violence can be accomplished. Undercover Colors nail polish is ingenious-for combining science and the fashion industry to empower women, specifically, if victimized. However, there are many questions still to be answered. How much does the product cost? Will there be nail polish stations outside of bars? How can we get women to discreetly ask strangers for them to stir their drink? Will it be available everywhere? Is there any way these can be sold in bulk [7]? Most importantly, what happens if perpetrators only target women who aren’t wearing nail polish; will Undercover Colors create a colorless nail polish to steer away from this problem? Hopefully in the coming times these questions can be answered to avoid blaming victims and find tangible solutions to detecting date rape drugs.

References:

[1] Fisher, Cullen & Turner, “One in Four USA.” Sexual Assault Statistics. Accessed December 22, 2014.  http://www.oneinfourusa.org/statistics.php

[2] Sheapard, Crystal, “Can This Undercover Nail Polish Detect Date Rape Drugs?” Truthout. Accessed December 22, 2014. http://truth-out.org/opinion/item/25901-can-this-undercover-nail-polish-detect-date-rape-drugs?

[3] Lu, Alicia, “Bustle.” Bustle. Accessed December 23, 2014. http://www.bustle.com/articles/35609-christy-mack-shares-brave-photos-of-her-alleged-assault-by-ex-boyfriend-jon-koppenhaver.

[4] Taylor, Victoria, “Nail Polish That May Detect Date-rape Drugs in the Works.” NY Daily News. Accessed December 23, 2014. http://www.nydailynews.com/life-style/nail-polish-detect-date-rape-drugs-works-article-1.1916342.

[5] “New Electronic Device and Mobile App Designed to Detect ‘Date Rape’ Drugs in Drinks.” NCADD. Accessed December 23, 2014. https://ncadd.org/in-the-news/1210-new-electronic-device-and-mobile-app-designed-to-detect-date-rape-drugs-in-drinks.

[6] Jacoby, Sarah, “How Date Rape Drugs Actually Work.” Refinery29. Accessed December 23, 2014. http://www.refinery29.com/how-date-rape-drugs-work.

[7] Dusenberry, Maya, “Feministing.” Feministing. Accessed December 23, 2014. http://feministing.com/2014/08/25/some-questions-about-undercover-colors-anti-rape-nail-polish/.

Image References:

[1] http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-2732144/Will-nail-polish-stop-sexual-assault-Male-science-students-develop-manicure-changes-color-exposed-date-rape-drugs.html

Amishi Desai is a third year student who goes to the George Washington University considering majoring in psychology. She is interested in exploring topics in medicine such as primary care, psychology, prevention and public health. Additionally, she enjoys photography, painting and traveling in her free time.

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