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Device aims to ward off date rape


LONDON, Ont. - A credit-card sized toolbox that indicates if a drink has been laced with a date rape drug will make it to Ontario shelves by late August.

The Drink Detective, distributed by Alcotest, successfully won the right earlier this week to be sold in Quebec starting in early August, after a successful marketing campaign in that province.

The company claims the Drink Detective tests for three of the most common date rape drugs - gamma hydroxybutyric acid (GHB), ketamine and the benzodiazepine group, which includes Royhpnol, Valium and Xanax.

Marie-Lou Lachance of Alcotest said the product has been available on a limited basis in Quebec for about about a month.

Nearly 3,000 of the testers have been sold, at $5.99 a pop, through bars, restaurants and pharmacies.

The tester comes with a dropper that allows the user to place drink droplets on test pads which change colour in response to the drugs.

The entrepreneur behind the Drink Detective admits that accurate statistics on drink spiking are elusive.

Speaking from his home in England, Stanley Grossman said gamma hydroxybuturate (GHB), one of the most common date rape drugs, can become undetectable in the body less than 12 hours after ingestion. He said that often by the time victims report a possible assault, the drugs have left their system.

But Grossman, a former McGill University mathematics professor, insists that anecdotal evidence is reliable in distinguishing the effects of date rape drugs from plain alcohol.

"If you wake up with no memory of events, that's an almost certain indication you were drugged," he said.

Grossman's website links to a 2004 survey by the U.K.'s Guardian newspaper that suggested one in four regular U.K. club goers, both women and gay men, suspected they'd been the victims of spiked drinks at some point.

He said the Drink Detective is effective by creating a difficult atmosphere for would-be date rapists to operate in.

Grossman said bars selling the product are encouraged to hang posters indicating the presence of the devices to ward off offenders.

"The goal is to scare the cowards who spike drinks," he said.

But an Ontario advocate of abused women's rights says the Drink Detective might be "a colossal waste of money" for bar patrons because it detects drugs that aren't a real problem.

"I think if you sold 3,000 Drink Detectives ... you'd come up with 3,000 negative tests if you were only looking for the traditional date rape drugs," said Megan Walker, director of the London Abused Women's Centre in London, Ont.

Walker said alcohol alone is a bigger concern in London than spiked drinks.

"Kids go out pre-drinking so they're already intoxicated before they even get to the bar. Then, instead of saving $10 for the taxi, they buy one last drink and walk home drunk. That's a bigger concern to me than any date rape drug."

She said alcohol, especially in combination with other recreational drugs like ecstasy, can get people into behaviours and situations they would otherwise avoid.