RALEIGH — It looks as innocent as an aspirin, but it packs the power of a knockout punch. It's called Rohypnol, and it is a prescription sleep remedy ten times more powerful than Valium. But this pill is also known as a "roofie."
It has been linked to date rapes all over the country and to the college bar scene in the Triangle. Drop just one pill in a woman's drink, and she's out for the count.
"And all of a sudden everything just started spinning, and I started dying of sweat. That's really the last thing I remember, her taking me to the bathroom," said roofie victim Kimberly Connor.
Someone slipped a roofie in Connor's drink at a Raleigh bar. Connor was lucky. She returned to her table and rejoined her friends before she got sick.
"And I started to lose control of bodily functions. I couldn't focus on anything. I could hardly hold my head up. I was really tired, sick feeling all of a sudden," said Connor.
Connor's friends took her to the emergency room where doctors diagnosed a classic case of Rohypnol poisoning. Like most victims, she has no memory of what happened after the drug kicked in. It's a storyUNC's Matt Sullivan has heard too many times.
"There's a wide range of emotions from anger, to stunned, to hurt, to the many psychological issues that go along with victimization, particularly the victimization involving sexual assault," Sullivan said.
Sullivan has counseled victims of the date rape drug in Chapel Hill.
Rohypnol is no longer sold legally in the U.S. But Sullivan says it is easy to buy on the street for as little as a dollar a pill. Roofies have been linked to so many assaults that the manufacturer now provides colleges like UNC with urine test kits that detect the drug.
"We're able to send it forward as part of the chain of evidence toRoche Laboratorieswhere they do an evaluation to determine if this drug was involved in the assault," said UNC nurse Bev Yuhasz.
The date rape drug can take an even more sinister form. A homemade chemical called GHB cannot be detected at all, and the recipe is available right over the Internet.
Now an herbal version of GHB is being marketed as a sleep aid. You can buy it right over the counter at local nutrition stores.
"It can give you adverse effects by actually putting you in that deep, deep sleep, and by taking enough of it, you're out," said Phil Carlson of Genesis Gym.
Carlson sells "Renewtrient" at a Raleigh health club. Carlson says small doses can boost your workout by producing energy. A capful can knock you out, just like Rohypnol. Mixing it with alcohol can be disastrous.
Because Renewtrient is a herbal product, it is not regulated. Carlson suspects it will not stay on the market long because of the potential for abuse. But for now, it's readily available, and that means women have to protect themselves.
"When I walk around, I always walk around with my beer covered or whatever. I know who is around me at all times, and I'm always with someone I trust completely," said Connor.
Connor hopes other women will take her advice and make themselves less likely targets.
"We tell them to look out for each other, look out for themselves and most importantly, take some self responsibility for your safety," said Sullivan.
Advocates are spreading the same message on college campuses. They can only hope their words will reach young women before they become victims.