MONTREAL—Though it’s less talked about than in the ’90s, date rape has never gone away.  The tools to combat it, however, are becoming more accessible.

Beginning next month, many pharmacies across Quebec will begin stocking a small card that people can take with them to a bar to test if their drink has been spiked with any of a few so-called date-rape drugs.  It’s believed to the first time such a tool will be made so widely available in Canada.

The “Drink Detective” card, developed in the United Kingdom, claims to screen for GHB (gamma-hydroxybutyrate), ketamine, and several benzodiazepines, which are common prescription sleep and anti-anxiety aids.

The credit card-sized tester unfolds to reveal three spots on which a few drops of the drink can be placed (with the included pipette). A particular colour change indicates a positive result.

Stéphan Lepage, in charge of development at Alcotest Québec, a company that is distributing the testers, said would-be rapists would be put on notice. “They will know that bars and licensed establishments will no longer be a safe place to do that.”

The giant drugstore chain Jean Coutu says the testers should be in stores by late August. A spokesperson said the idea was to better serve their clients, who are mostly women.

Lepage hopes to roll out the testers soon to bars and clubs and the rest of Canada.  The testers are already in a few pharmacies in the Montreal region on a preliminary basis. Pharmacist Maciek Zarzycki, owner of the Uniprix pharmacy in Ste-Anne-de-Bellevue on Montreal’s west island, has placed the product at the checkout.  But due to the price, Zarzycki says they’re not selling well, at least so far.

“For $6,” he offered, “students want to have an extra drink instead.”  A few have been picked up by parents, he said.  Yet it seems to be effective. Zarzycki tested the benzodiazepine strip himself using drugs found in the pharmacy. “It detected them easily,” he said.

With schools in the area like John Abbott College and McGill University’s Macdonald campus, Zarzycki said, “It’s a service I thought would be interesting to have. We have a big student community here.”  In the early 2000s, some universities tried handing similar testing “coasters” to students in awareness campaigns.

Janice Du Mont, a scientist at Women’s College Research Institute in Toronto, said such technologies can play a “limited role in preventing drug-facilitated sexual assault.”  Du Mont said that though there was a lot of hype about date rape in the 90s, the problem endures and encompasses a wide array of drugs.  Du Mont and her colleagues had previously reported that one in five sexual assault victims believed they had been drugged.

In a study published in June, those findings were expanded. Looking at those in the sample whose urine actually tested positive for drugs or alcohol, 64 per cent did not report voluntarily consuming the drugs found.

Though there are complicating factors, such as numerous victims willingly consuming other substances prior to the assault, the data indicate “these women — and some men — were intentionally drugged,” Du Mont said.

Unlike in the ’90s when Rohypnol was the drug most worried about, Du Mont said none was found in the study. By far the most common drugs found in the toxicology screening of the assault victims were cocaine and marijuana. There were only two cases of “unexpected” ketamine, and one of GHB.

Since the tester card doesn’t screen for cocaine or marijuana, “it has limited use for that reason as well.”

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