Cocktail stick could detect date rape drugs

2019-03-06 11:01:10

By Emma Young A disposable swizzle stick that could indicate whether a drink has been spiked with any of about 40 “date rape drugs” could be as little as a year away, say UK scientists. Chemists at LGC in Middlesex are evaluating existing blood and urine tests for drugs such as GHB (gamma hydroxybutyric acid) and Rohypnol to establish whether a cheap, cocktail stick-like device could be developed for use in an alcoholic drink. The stick would have to be cheap enough to be given away with every drink in a bar, says the team. “So far, it looks very promising that existing tests will be able to deliver – although it’s too premature to say that that is definitely so,” says Paul Debenham, the LGC’s director of life sciences and forensics. If existing tests cannot produce reliable results in alcohol, new tests will have to be developed, Debenham says. So-called date rape drugs are tasteless, odourless and colourless. Victims can be unconscious for several hours. In 2000, 780 women and men in the UK reported being drugged and raped, and in 2001 the figures are rising by 50 per cent each month. “It’s very important that a device like this is developed as soon as possible,” says Cindy Sturman of the UK’s Drug Rape Trust. “Reports of drug rapes are increasing all the time.” In a report for the Home Office released in June 2001, DCI Peter Sturman of the Metropolitan Police wrote: “Drug-assisted assault is happening in the UK. Whilst it is not of epidemic proportions it should be a real cause for concern.” Developing a blueprint for a swizzle stick “is a tremendous challenge”, Debenham told New Scientist. “We want something that detects multiple drugs, and we need something that will accept drugs into the stick but doesn’t allow any of the detection chemical to leach out into the drink.” It currently costs about £1 to test for each possible date rape drug in the lab. “But the last thing we would want is for a woman to have to ask for a swizzle stick in a drink. We would want it cheap enough so that bar staff would put it in everything,” says Debenham. The stick may also detect alcohol itself, he says. “I understand that one of the major forms of date rape happens when a lady has had several alcoholic drinks and moves onto what she thinks is fruit juice, but someone spikes that juice with alcohol.” The UK government Department of Trade and Industry is funding the research. Debenham expects to have produced a report within the next few months. It will then be up to a manufacturer to take up the challenge of turning theory into a device,