Rohypnol detecting could be improved
By Lindsay Isaac
A new test to determine if sexual assault victims were under the influence of the illegal drug Rohypnol is being developed at St. Joseph's Hospital in Hamilton.
The hospital is working in collaboration with the chemistry department at the University of Waterloo on a new test which hopes to detect the drug a day or two after it has been injested.
"We are working with St. Joseph's toxicology lab by providing the urine testing samples from victims," said Linda Greenway, the nurse facilitator at the sexual assault treatment program at McMaster. She said urine tests are required to test for the drug since its metabolites are excreted too quickly from the blood to be detected.
"All traces of the drug are excreted so quickly that previous tests have been negligible," Greenway said. She added the current research is focusing on Rohypnol due to its potency.
"It has a strong effect on memory due to its amnesia-type quality, causing memory loss."
Ted Dunn, a clinical chemist in charge of the research at McMaster, said the new test will be more sensitive than existing methods used to detect Rohypnol. "Currently the technology is not very sensitive. The longer the testing is delayed, the chances are slimmer of finding any evidence."
Although the presence of Rohypnol in sexual assault cases has been proven, it is hard to do so as current tests are not sensitive enough to detect traces of the drug. "Most victims do not get the test done in time, so there have been many false negative tests," Dunn said.
"Although the test may have been negative, that does not mean the drug was not there," he said.
The popularity of Rohypnol among perpetrators is due to its potency and amnesiac effects. "It is 10 times more powerful than other sedating drugs and is harder to detect," Dunn said.
Jan Slywchuk, counsellor at the St. Joseph's regional sexual assault Treatment Center in London, agreed the current testing is not good enough. "The number of cases has grown in the past year and it spread over a broader age group," Slywchuk said.
Dunn said the tests still need a few more months of research, as only the preliminary basic development work has been completed.