Q: Recently, we saw a television show about a new drug called "Ruffies" that appears to be very popular with teen-agers.
What is this drug and its side effects?
A: None of our standard references contained information about this drug -- flunitrazepam -- whose brand name is Rohypnol. However, a call to Roche Laboratories proved quite informative.
According to the Roche representative, this drug is in the same class of medication as other benzodiazepenes (Valium is probably the best known drug in this class) but is much more potent. It is marketed outside the United States as a sleep agent. Its onset of action (how quickly it works after being ingested) is quite rapid and its effects last about 6 to 8 hours.
Like other benzodiazepenes, this drug acts as a central nervous system depressant and can loosen inhibitions. If taken in more than the recommended dosage and/or if mixed with alcohol, the drug has the very real possibility of depressing an individual's breathing. Therefore, it is very dangerous if taken as a "party" drug, since some kind of alcohol is usually consumed at the same time.
Anyone who has taken an overdose of "Ruffies" (with or without alcohol) should immediately be taken to an emergency room. Of course, there is also the very real possibility that a drug illegally sold as pure has been adulterated (mixed with other drugs).
According to CESAR (a weekly Fax service from the Center for Substance Abuse Research at the University of Maryland, College Park), more than 1,000 cases of illegal possession of this drug have been reported in the United Sates to date. Sadly, it is sometimes given to unsuspecting individuals to produce disinhibition.
Even as new drugs like "Ruffies" become fashionable, other drugs continue to be widely abused.
The most recent data from an ongoing yearly study of adolescent drug use contains the distressing news that virtually all illicit drug use by teen-agers is on the rise over the last few years. The percentage of teen-agers who smoke cigarettes is also increasing whereas use of alcohol -- the most widely abused drug -- remained unchanged.
Dr. Wilson is director of general pediatrics at Johns Hopkins Children's Center; Dr. Joffe is director of adolescent medicine.