Bedtime Scoop and Easy Lay

In the spring of last year, a 21-year-old college student from Wisconsin named Julia Sumnicht decided that she needed to thaw out after a Midwestern winter. She flew to Miami, Florida, dreaming, I imagine, like so many of her peers, of sun and sand and drinks all the colors of confetti. But not for long.

Sumnicht died in Miami of an overdose of GHB, the shorthand name for gamma-hydroxybutyric acid.  There are plenty of other names for GHB, ugly ones like Bedtime Scoop, Easy Lay, Grievous Bodily Harm.  Because GHB - colorless, odorless, slightly salty but easily disguised by a fruity cocktail, a potent sedative with memory-damaging side effects – is one of today’s more popular date rape drugs.

According to an analysis done through the non-profit Project GHB, more than 20 people (mostly male) were killed every year between 1995 and 2005 by GHB overdoses. The researchers suggested, however, that their findings underestimated the problem because at many smaller hospitals the routine toxicology screen is not designed to detect the compound. At least it wasn’t back then.

Today, medical examiners are giving GHB and its ilk (Rohypnol, Lorazepam, Ketamine) more poisoning priority because, as a newly released national study warns, the practice of mixing date-rape drugs into drinks seems to be on rise in the United States. In the single year of 2009, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) 14,720 emergency room visits resulted from intentional poisonings and many resulted, apparently, from evenings at bars, clubs and parties.

“Approximately three in five (60 percent) drug-related ED visits attributed to intentional poisoning involved alcohol in combination with other drugs ,” the report notes. In other words, the classic date-rape drug scenario, the drug slipped into that sweet-colored drink.  Or as SAMSHA administrator Peter Delany told CBS News:   “These are people that are being given drugs that they don’t know about.”

The report is the first such survey of intentional poisoning related emergency room visits from the Rockville, Maryland based agency. But unpublished data from the previous year, 2008, clocked only 7,609 such emergency room visits. The sharp increase suggests radically  improved reporting measures, a rather alarming upward trend in criminal behavior, or most probably, a combination of these and other factors. A few more years of such reports are likely to give us a more accurate – and possibly even more depressing -  picture of the problem.

But if you don’t hear the siren-loud “beware” message already blaring from the SAMSHA report then you weren’t really listening.  Setting aside the body count for a minute, by some accounts, GHB and other such “club drugs” are linked to some 3 million rapes over the last few decades. And this isn’t just about fun-and-sun spring breaks. In September, I gave a talk at the University of Oklahoma. Even at that middle of the country campus, on a cloudy fall day,  students were talking about the use of the sedative Lorazepam as a date-rate drug.

The beware message is all about level-headed common sense. Don’t take drinks from strangers. Don’t leave your drink unwatched on a table. Don’t be a target. Easy to say, I know, from the tidy safety of a government agency office. Hard to remember in the buzz of a really good party, the blur of yet another round of drinks all the colors of confetti.

But try, okay? Think of the warning message as simply as this: come home safe tonight.

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15 Responses to Bedtime Scoop and Easy Lay

  1. Brigit says:

    The numbers for both deaths and drug-assisted rapes are terrifying. Even more so when most women I know that have been drugged and raped have been the victims of acquaintances, fellow members of a social group, boyfriends of their friends, and friends themselves. People they’ve known for a while and have already passed whatever internal “safety litmus test” they had. It’s your buddy from calculus that offered to hold your beer while you go to the bathroom, the friend that offers to get this round, the dude dating your friend that offers to drop both of you home. Women can follow all safety tips, but even then there’s no assurance they can make it safely home tonight.

  2. Deborah Blum says:

    You’re absolutely, horrifyingly, right. Far too many of these “intentional poisonings” come from people the victims trust. Which makes it all the sadder and, yes, all the harder to protect against. And yet: “trust no one” is a difficult rule to live by. That’s why we end up suggesting the common sense basics which we hope, I hope, protect against most of the threat.

  3. Jack Durand says:

    I think it’s good to keep in mind things one can do to stay safer, and I do see a lot of value in people discussing harm prevention in any scenario including how to minimize one’s chances of being raped. But there’s some advice you forgot to give (and I don’t mean to imply here that only men are rapists, and only women ever are raped):

    Guys, don’t rape people.

    Don’t use date rape drugs. They’re dangerous and might kill somebody.

    If you think one of your friends or a person at a party you’re at might be planning to rape somebody, do what you can to stop it. Don’t tolerate rapey behavior among your friends. Don’t laugh at or make rape jokes.

    This is a good place to start if you want to learn more about why rape jokes are Not Cool.

    /soapbox

  4. Bailey says:

    Thanks Jack, for that comment – that’s exactly what’s on my mind. It’s not my responsibility to not get raped or drugged when I choose to be in a social situation, just as it’s not my responsibility to not get mugged every time I leave my house.

    I’m still not going to leave my drinks unattended when I go out, but telling people that we shouldn’t be “targets” doesn’t send the message that it’s the people who are actually putting drugs in drinks who are the problem. How about, instead of telling women and men that we shouldn’t make ourselves targets, we focus our attention where it belongs? Focus on the criminals who are using the drugs to begin with.

  5. Deborah Blum says:

    The tricky thing abiyt advising anyone to act self-protectively is that people sometimes read that as a blame-the-victim stance. So let me be clear – I don’t mean it that way. Yes, the best answer is to bring our attitudes and our culture up to a higher level. Yes, the wrong-doers are the people who dump the GHB and its like into the drinks of women and men. But, and this is the big but, while we’re working on that and until we reach that higher plane, I prefer to advise people to be aware of risks and try to protect themselves if possible. To me this is the same approach as we take when advising people to lock their doors at night and other common sense advice for self-protection. Someday we may actually solve the bad actor problem. But until then, I think we balance between trying to solve it and trying to give people the kind of advice that may actually save them from a very bad time.

  6. Deborah Blum says:

    Good points all, Jack. And if everyone would just follow your advice, then I wouldn’t have to give mine. Here’s to the day.

  7. Bailey says:

    I agree, it’s important that people need to be aware that this is a problem so they can be proactive in protecting themselves and others. But you didn’t call out the criminals and rapists at all here, which is where I see a problem.

    We definitely need to get to that higher plane to solve these problems, but we can’t do that if we don’t both address ways people can protect themselves and make sure we’re addressing the people who are creating the danger.

  8. Mutant Dragon says:

    Nice post. And what sick jerks. It really saddens me we live in a society where young women have to worry about this kind of stuff.

  9. Deborah Blum says:

    See, I think just writing about the shocking rate of “intentional poisoning” does call out the criminals. Notice the Mutant Dragon’s comment about the “sick jerks” in society. Certainly that was my intent and they are clearly the bad guys in the story. I tend in these cases to favor show over tell in making the point. But you’re right that there are good reasons to hit those points even harder. And I’ll definitely remember that next time I write about a similar subject (which given my current interests is incredibly likely).

  10. Deborah Blum says:

    Total thanks. And total agreement.

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  12. Yeah, that is a good, educational link. The point that rapists actually believe that rape is something men in general do is something I’ve never heard before, and I appreciate learning that. Every fact makes me incrementally better informed.

    Unfortunately, the statement that 6% of college-age men admit to rape contains a dead link, which is inconvenient. But there is one that works down in the comments.

    Personally, I can’t think of a single occasion, ever, in which I have even heard one of these rape jokes the article talks about. I can’t bring to mind a single one. No examples, please — I am attached to my innocence and would like to keep it.

  13. Jenny Morber says:

    I recall a sorority program one night back in the early 2000s where one of the members recounted her experience after eating a drug-laced peep. She left soon after (lucky) and somehow managed to drive all over town buying odd things without killing anyone. The general consensus was that on our relatively safe campus, girls hoped that it didn’t happen to them, but everyone knew of at least one person who had some type of experience with a date rape drug. Moral of the story – it’s not only a drink that you have to watch.

  14. Angry says:

    How about the warning that men are dogshit. Men keep whining about how women always put them down. There’s a reason assholes. Rape goes up when it’s made easy. Really!!!!!! Guys who think of themselves as the good ones have no problem pissing all over another human being because it’s easy. You are worse than the fucking rapist who rape at gunpoint, you are dogshit.

  15. Andrew says:

    Unfortunately in these sick days people will pay bartenders to slip drugs into there drinks when serving so who can you trust not even the bartender