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Students encounter dangerous date-rape drug

Published: Thursday, November 30, 2006

Updated: Tuesday, August 11, 2009 23:08

A friend assured her it would only make her happy and relaxed, alter colors and improve taste, but when she popped one of the small white "zombie pills," she found herself in a strange dorm with no memory of the night's events.

"I didn't know how I got there - I just couldn't remember being there," said the junior English and communications major, who talked about the drug on the condition of anonymity.

The drug that produced these frightening effects was Ambien, a popular prescription sleep aid that is increasingly being abused as a recreational drug. But officials warn it can have dangerous effects as well. According to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency, Ambien is quickly overtaking illegal sedatives as the most common date-rape drug.

With more than 250,000 prescriptions written in the last year, Ambien is more accessible to predators than Rohypnol, or "roofies," and its side effects when mixed with alcohol open the door to sexual assault.

Because of its lack of taste, Ambien can easily be added to drinks.

"The fact that people are abusing such a serious medication really worries me," said sophomore communications major Alex Chagouris. "When I'm in social situations, I always try to stay aware of what's going on around me, but I think a lot of people just don't know about this issue."

Depressants such as Ambien can not only result in physical and psychological dependence but also slurred speech, disorientation and impaired memory, according to the DEA.

Also known as "A-minus," Ambien can produce a high, as users fight off the drug's effects and stay awake.

One junior psychology major said she has regularly abused the sleep aid, taking up to seven times the prescribed amount. She also talked about the drug on the condition of anonymity.

"It made things more entertaining," she said, but she also found she had coordination problems, slower cognitive abilities and gaps in her memory while her body was still buzzed from the drug.

By the end of November, the University Health Center had filled more than 140 prescriptions for Ambien this year, said pharmacist Deirdre Younger.

"I personally haven't heard of it being used to achieve a high," Younger said, adding there is potential for severe reactions if users do not heed the alcohol warning printed on the container.

Typically, a two-week supply of the drug - 14 capsules - costs about $66, depending on insurance policies.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse says the misuse of sedatives by teens has nearly doubled over the past decade.

College students are not commonly prescribed Ambien, but illegal online pharmacies make it available to practically anyone who seeks it.

"It's scary to think how easily attainable it is," said junior marketing major Kathleen Guthrie, "especially since it is a common drug, and you wouldn't think it could cause you that much harm."

Contact reporter Alli Hoge at newsdesk@dbk.umd.edu.

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