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Sunday Mirror
November 10, 2002

Men caught with the date-rape drug Rohypnol could face seven years in jail under a major shake-up of the law.

And tranquillisers such as Valium (diazepam), which are prescribed to millions and known as "mother's little helpers", will also be made a Class A drug - the same as heroin - in an attempt to deal with the huge illegal trade in the drugs.

Rohypnol belongs to a category of drugs known as Benzodiazepines - currently Class C drugs which are available on prescription to deal with depression and anxiety. But the pills are used illegally by clubbers as "downers" and by male predators who slip them into the drinks of unsuspecting women. Victims then lose all their inhibitions and have no memory of what has happened to them.

Reclassification would increase the maximum sentence for possession without a prescription from two years to seven. There is a huge black market among drug addicts in tranquillisers because they are Class C drugs and more easily available on prescription.

The Drug Rape Trust say more than 2,000 women complained last year that their drinks were spiked last year - an increase of more than 64 per cent. As well as Rohypnol, 17 other drugs, were used including ketamine, an animal anaesthetic used by vets.

In one of the most notorious cases, twins George and Julian Spitzer were jailed for a total of 97 years in Los Angeles after being convicted of date-raping 26 women. The pair would drug their victims with Rohypnol then film the assaults.

Home Secretary David Blunkett's desire to toughen up the law on Rohypnol and other tranquilliser drugs comes after pressure from MPs and health experts who are concerned about the widespread misuse of tranquillisers.

It has been claimed that millions of patients have become unwittingly hooked on drugs such as Valium (diazepam), Ativan (lorazepam) and Mogadon (nitrazepam). They belong to a category of medicines known as Benzodiazepines which are highly addictive.

Mr Blunkett promised action on the widespread use of the "benzo" drugs before entering Government. Surveys of prescriptions suggest as many as six million people could be either addicted or in danger of addiction. The drugs are prescribed to counter insomnia or anxiety attacks and should only be taken for a maximum of 28 days. But hundreds of thousands of patients have been put on them for years.

Many doctors turn a blind eye to the fact that their patients are addicted because they simply don't know how to wean them off the drugs.

But side-effects include loss of physical co-ordination, memory failure, nose bleeds, loss of libido, lack of concentration, relationship difficulties, behavioural problems and obsessiveness.

MPs, including ministers, are set to launch a campaign next week for the establishment of a charity to help addicts through special treatment centres.

A spokesman for the Home Office said: "The recommended advice is that these drugs should be used for short-term conditions only. It is up to the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs to make recommendations and they look at all relevant scientific research and, if necessary, take evidence.

"Ministers will reflect on the advice and make a decision accordingly."

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