A recent article published by the U.K. news and media website Guardian examined the growing prevalence of sedatives and other drugs used with the intent to incapacitate someone, making them vulnerable to sexual assault.
According to some reports, the so-called “date rape drugs” Rohypnol and GHB (gamma-hydroxybutyrate) can be purchased online through online darknet vendors based in the European Union; GBL (gamma-butyrolactone), which is a precursor to GBH, was also found to be available through online vendors.
GBL is cheaper and easier to purchase than GHB however, the latter remains more popular due to the misconception that GBL is more dangerous because it is an organic solvent. “People think because it’s a wheel cleaner it must be worse than the powder form,” said Guy Jones, a drug-testing expert in his interview with The Guardian.
Currently, GHB is classified as a class B substance in the U.K. and is occasionally prescribed to treat narcolepsy. However, it is set to be reclassified as a Class C substance, placing it in the same category as amphetamines, with harsher penalties for its possession. In Canada any sale, possession or production of GHB are illegal unless authorized for medical, scientific or industrial purposes as GHB is controlled under Schedule I of the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act.
Some experts have expressed concerns that reclassification would not necessarily reduce the date rape drug’s prevalence, price or availability, while criminalizing individuals who purchase GHB to use in consensual sex, many of whom are LGBTQ+.
“Further criminalising GHB would be an example of what we call the balloon effect: you squeeze down on the balloon in one place, it pops up in another place,” said Jones.
Professor David Nutt, a neuropsychopharmacologist and former adviser to the U.K. Ministry of Defense, health department and the Home Office, warned that strict control of date rape drugs such as GHB may not be an effective means of addressing drug-assisted sexual violence.
“Sadly, sexual assault with so-called date-rape drugs are well-known. Alcohol is the most common, of course, but we know of many cases where GHB has been ‘spiked’ on top of people’s drinks,” he said.
“Policy response will always need to consider a range of different factors. And while the control of substances like drugs or alcohol is one aspect to consider, people’s safety won’t be ensured through one decision alone.”