Drugged drinks

Amanda Cowan had no idea of the nightmare trip ahead of her when she sat down in a local casino nightclub on a Saturday night and ordered a Cosmopolitan. She was out to have a little fun, but she ended up drugged, alone and at risk of rape and death.

Cowan (not her real name) went to a downtown Reno casino with expectations of seeing a big musical show last month. The nursing student went to a popular bar with a girlfriend, where two men in their 40s or 50s struck up a conversation. After having a drink, Cowan and her friend went to a dance club. The men followed them. Cowan was on her second highball when everything went black.

“I kind of remember the second Cosmo,’ she recalled. “My friend said she ordered a third. I don’t remember that.’

Cowan is not just a statistic. An increase in reports of dosings has some locals being extra careful about what and where they are drinking. One unofficial source at the Reno Police Department said that there has been an increase in calls about dosings in recent months but was unwilling to offer specifics. Subsequent messages left for RPD officials were not returned.

There are several date-rape drugs, but Rohypnol, also known as roofies, is the most widely discussed. GHB is another. Rohypnol is not prescribed in the United States, and most if it is brought north illegally from Mexico. It is a depressant that decreases a woman’s ability to resist unwanted sexual advances. Would-be rapists place powdered pills in unattended drinks—any drink will do, it doesn’t have to contain alcohol. The drug dissolves in seconds. The rapist then tries to separate his prey from her friends to force her into sex. The victim often doesn’t remember anything about the hours surrounding the incident.

Cowan, a 32-year-old married woman, doesn’t know if she was raped. She does know she disappeared for some time. Her friend told her she was dancing with one of the men, and he was kissing her. After two weeks of agonizing worry, she went to her gynecologist to be tested for sexually transmitted diseases and toxic substances, but she doesn’t expect to find much out about the incident—it will be good enough news if she hasn’t contracted an STD. She considers herself fortunate that her friend was able to offer her memories of the missing evening and the two men who she believes drugged her.

“I don’t remember getting lost, being found,’ she said. “I don’t remember getting home. The next thing I remember is getting awakened at 8:30 in the morning.’ Her husband told her that upon returning home, she tried to take a shower and he found her unconscious in a bathtub filled with water.

While she did not file a report with the police—she can’t even prove a crime was committed—she did file an “occurrence report’ with the casino, in hopes that there was a surveillance film that would show her drink being spiked and who did it. It’s been more than a week since she and her husband wrote the report, and she still has heard nothing from the casino.

Garry Rubinstein, coordinator of the substance abuse program at the University of Nevada, Reno, says that, while he hasn’t heard of a recent rise in dosings, he knows drug abuse typically increases during particular times of the year.

“In my experience, at-risk activities tend to go up when people have time on their hands—during holidays or the end of the semester or when people have time off of their work. Unfortunately, it’s my counselor experience that during certain times of the year, this being one of them, there’s an increase in problems.’

Roofies, like any depressant, is particularly dangerous when mixed with alcohol. The effects can be deadly.

“When you mix two downers together, there’s a synergistic effect, which is why with a little bit of both, bad things happen to good people,’ Rubenstein said.

He added that there are some ways partiers can protect themselves: Never leave a drink unattended; if you should leave your drink for a moment, dump it out and start over; when at private parties, always pour your own drinks; always have a buddy who can tell if your behavior becomes unusual; always let someone know where you are going to be and when you plan to return home. Finally, if you suspect you or a friend was drugged, go to any local hospital, where they are equipped to handle overdoses.

Sex is not the only reason a person would dose a drink; some just get their jollies from being jerks.

“I would tell anybody these days—it may sound paranoid—but there are people who think it’s funny to mess with you,’ Rubinstein said. There are also bad people who deliberately try to take advantage of you—financially as well as sexually.’

He has a warning for businesses that turn a blind eye toward misbehavior on the part of employees and guests.

“There are places in town that are at risk of legal liability because they look the other way when people in the business provide drinks that are stronger or have things in them,’ he said.

Cowan says she has learned the hard lesson that a simple night out can turn into a nightmare.

“I told my husband, &145;Now you know why I don’t have girls’ night out anymore,’’ she said. “This is why I prefer to hang out at home, or have people over. It’s just not a comfortable situation out there anymore.’