Prevalence of drugs used in
cases of alleged sexual assault

ElSohly MA, Salamone SJ
ElSohly Laboratories, Inc.,
Oxford, Mississippi 38655, USA.
J Anal Toxicol 1999 May-Jun; 23(3):141-6


In recent years, there has been an increase in the number of reports in the U.S. of the use of drugs, often in conjunction with alcohol, to commit sexual assault. A study was undertaken to assess the prevalence of drug use in sexual assault cases in which substances are suspected of being involved. Law enforcement agencies, emergency rooms, and rape crisis centers across the U.S. were offered the opportunity to submit urine samples collected from victims of alleged sexual assault, where drug use was suspected, for analysis of alcohol and drugs which may be associated with sexual assault. Each sample was tested by immunoassay for amphetamines, barbiturates, benzodiazepines, cocaine metabolite (benzoylecgonine), cannabinoids, methaqualone, opiates, phencyclidine and propoxyphene. The positive screen results were confirmed by gas chromatography-mass spectroscopy (GC-MS). In addition, each sample was tested for flunitrazepam metabolites and gamma-hydroxybutyrate (GHB) by GC-MS and for ethanol by gas chromatography-flame ionization detection (GC-FID). Over a 26-month period, 1179 samples were collected and analyzed from 49 states, Puerto Rico, and the District of Columbia. The states sending the most samples were California (183), Texas (119), Florida (61), Pennsylvania (61), New York (61), Minnesota (50), Illinois (47), Indiana (44), Michigan (40), Maryland (37), Virginia (32), and Massachusetts (31). Four-hundred sixty eight of the samples were found negative for all the substances tested; 451 were positive for ethanol, 218 for cannabinoids, 97 for benzoylecgonine, 97 for benzodiazepines, 51 for amphetamines, 48 for GHB, 25 for opiates, 17 for propoxyphene, and 12 for barbiturates. There were no samples identified as positive for phencyclidine or methaqualone. In addition, 35% of the drug-positive samples contained multiple drugs. This study indicates that, with respect to alleged sexual assault cases, the prevalence of ethanol is very high, followed by cannabinoids, cocaine, benzodiazepines, amphetamines, and GHB. Although only a couple of substances have been implicated with sexual assault, this study has shown that almost 20 different substances have been associated with this crime. This study also raises the concern of illicit and licit drug use in sexual assault cases and suggests the need to test for a range of drugs in these cases. It also highlights the need to test for GHB, which is not generally tested for in a normal toxicology screen.

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