Rohypnol: Legal consequences

Last modified: Saturday, 20. June 2009 - 3:19 pm

Legal consequences of Rohypnol

People found to be in possession of Rohypnol, regardless of the quantity involved, are subject to a maximum sentence of three years in prison. People found to be importing or exporting Rohypnol, regardless of the quantity involved, are subject to a maximum sentence of 20 years. However, if death or bodily injury results, the minimum sentence is 20 years and the maximum sentence is life in prison. If the defendant has a prior felony conviction, the minimum sentence is 30 years in prison.
Law enforcement officials have improved their ability to detect the drug due to more sophisticated tests. Rohypnol remains detectable in urine for up to 72 hours. The drug’s manufacturer, Hoffmann-La Roche maintains a free, 24-hour phone line providing information on Rohypnol and offers free comprehensive testing for the drug to hospital emergency departments, law enforcement officials, and rape crisis centers.
The DEA has documented approximately 4,500 federal, state, and local law enforcement investigations involving the distribution or possession of Rohypnol within the United States since 1985. The cases are spread across 38 states. However, at least two-thirds of those cases are in Florida and Texas, according to testimony given before Congress in 1999 by Terrance Woodworth, Deputy Director of the DEA’s Office of Diversional Control. Since 1994, at least nine people have been convicted of sexual assault in five state court cases in which there was evidence that Rohypnol was used to incapacitate the victim. The DEA is aware of 17 other sexual assault cases that took place between 1994 to 1998 in which there is evidence to suggest Rohypnol was used.

Legal history

According to published reports, Rohypnol was first used to commit date rape in 1993. In 1996, President Clinton signed the Drug-Induced Rape Prevention and Punishment Act. This legislation provides for prison sentences of up to 20 years for anyone possessing a controlled substance with the intent to commit a violent crime, including rape, by secretly drugging someone else.
Advocates for rape victims in England and Australia have called for a ban on Rohypnol similar to the one in the United States, but officials there have yet to outlaw the drug. Officials in Germany took an aggressive step toward restricting the illegal use of Rohypnol by removing the 2-mg dose from the market and allowing only hospitals to use doses over 1 mg. Independently, Hoffmann-La Roche discontinued production of the 2-mg tablet worldwide. The company also reduced the number of legal distributors of the drug in Mexico from 200 to 16.

Federal guidelines, regulations, and penalties

The DEA temporarily classified Rohypnol as a Schedule IV drug in the mid-1980s because there was no evidence at that time of abuse or widespread distribution of the drug in the United States. However, because of an increase in use among young people across the country in the 1990s, and because of its mind-altering and potentially addictive properties, the DEA began considering re-classifying Rohypnol as a Schedule I drug. This would put it in the same restrictive class as heroin and LSD. Drugs in Schedule I have a high potential for abuse and are considered unsafe for use according to the standards set by medical professionals. Reclassification to Schedule I status also would be an indication that the medical community can find no evidence that Rohypnol has a valid medical purpose or benefit. The World Health Organization (WHO) also recognized the potential dangers of Rohypnol, and in 1995 they reclassified Rohypnol as a Schedule III drug, making it the first benzodiazepine to be so tightly controlled.
As of 2002, the DEA had not finalized the decision to reclassify Rohypnol, and it remained a Schedule IV drug. Independent of the DEA’s actions, however, several states — including Florida, Idaho, Minnesota, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oklahoma, and Pennsylvania — have placed Rohypnol under Schedule I control.

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