Quantcast

Date-Rape Drugs Still Prevalent

December 26, 2005

By Cari Hammerstrom, The Monitor, McAllen, Texas, The Monitor, McAllen, Texas

Dec. 26–EDINBURG — Sexual assault nurse examiner Janie Cantu-Cabrera vividly remembers when police came to her four to five years ago with two teenaged sisters who had been drugged at a Pharr hotel party and then raped, possibly repeatedly.

The younger sister, who was 13 at the time, told the nurse that all she could recall was being trapped inside a bathtub while several faces hovered above her. Standing in the door frame was her older sister, 18, just watching.

The older sister, Cantu-Cabrera said, told the nurse that all she could remember from the previous night was seeing her sibling in the shower. Both of the girls reported feeling “funny” in the genital area.

“Both had physical findings of sexual assault,” Cantu-Cabrera said.

These girls were both likely drugged with Rohypnol, she said — a substance local teens still commonly abuse for recreation because of the euphoric state it can induce, and that predators use to facilitate rapes because of how it lowers victims’ inhibitions.

According to Juan J. Gonzales, Edinburg Consolidated Independent School District police chief, the prescription sleep aid Ambien is also “very popular” among local youth.

“It’s becoming more and more widely known,” he said.

These kind of reports make it especially important for revelers as they head out to parties this holiday season.

Even though statistics from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration point to a decrease in the availability of the drug on a national scale, Texas has experienced a spike in poison control calls and treatment admissions for Rohypnol, especially among Hispanic youth living along the border.

“It’s gotten worse,” Cantu-Cabrera said, referring to the recreational use of prescription drugs.

Kids as young as 12 years old are now taking Rohypnol, or roche pills as they are commonly called. Pills cost as little as $1. And although the pills are illegal in the United States, they can be bought with ease in Mexico and smuggled across the border.

And earlier this month at a meeting in which sexual assault victims’ advocates, law enforcement officials and nursing community members came together to discuss the establishment of a Sexual Assault Response Team, a specialist with the Texas Attorney General’s office also mentioned Ambien as a “date-rape drug” growing in popularity.

Experts working with sexual assault victims say they have never seen a confirmed case of Ambien used to commit a rape in Hidalgo County; however, some do see the potential for this type of abuse and are concerned about the trend the sexual assault community development specialist, Lisa Zapata-Maling, has recognized elsewhere in the state.

“It’s going to put someone to sleep,” said Vanessa Recio, a pharmacist with Saenz Pharmacy in Mission.

Recio said Ambien is widely prescribed, but it is mostly approved for adults. It is classified as a controlled medication, along with Vicodin and other strong medications with potential for abuse.

“You don’t see too many adolescents prescribed a sleep aid,” she said. “I don’t know I’ve ever dispensed an Ambien to a patient under 30.”

Ambien causes central nervous system depression and can impair cognitive thinking.

It’s one of the best drugs on the market to treat insomnia, said Andrea Lerma, a psychiatric clinical specialist at Tropical Texas MHMR, which is the state’s local mental health facility. Lerma prescribes Ambien with frequency for patients suffering from major depression, bipolar disorder and other mental health illnesses.

Some people, however, do experience Ambien amnesia when taking the drug, she said.

People have been known to get up and cook in the middle of the night or eat a lot. They wake in the morning to find candy wrappers or dirty pots and pans, she said, and they don’t remember any of it.

Lerma said she can see how Ambien could be used as a “date rape drug.”

It also has a short half-life, which means it is eliminated from the body very quickly.

One reason why Ambien has not yet gained as much popularity in Hidalgo County as roche pills is because of its price.

“Ambien is very expensive — $90 to $100 for a one month supply,” Lerma said. “It’s expensive over in Mexico, too.”

Ambien is more difficult to obtain, too, said ECISD Police Chief Gonzales.

“If kids are using it (Ambien), they are getting it somewhere else,” Cantu-Cabrera said.

Kids could be stealing their parents’ or grandparents’ pills, said Diana Cuellar, prevention educator with Women Together/Mujeres Unidas, a safe house for victims of sexual assault.

“Sleep aids in general are being abused,” Cuellar said. “”¦ Prescription sleep aids are very powerful.”

——

Cari Hammerstrom covers law enforcement and general assignments for The Monitor. You can reach her at (956) 683-4424.

—–

Copyright (c) 2005, The Monitor, McAllen, Texas

Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News.

For information on republishing this content, contact us at (800) 661-2511 (U.S.), (213) 237-4914 (worldwide), fax (213) 237-6515, or e-mail reprints@krtinfo.com.




comments powered by Disqus