5 Gadgets That Alert Drinkers to Date Rape Drugs

Date rape drugs are often slipped right into drinks like this mojito served at a bar. 5 tech gadgets could detect them and reduce rape trends.
Image: Pixabay

There’s coasters, cups, straws, nail polish and a smart device. Most of these date rape drugs detectors are not yet available.

In every college town in America, and really anywhere there’s a bar, such as a club or party, encountering date rape drugs in any drink is a possibility.

EMS train on the effects of date rape drugs like gamma hydroxybutyrate (GHB), and how alcohol compounds symptoms like seizures, apnea or coma. An overdose of GHB in alcohol helped lead to the double rape of AJ Januszczak, a Canadian woman who was living in Florida in 1996. Responding paramedics found her moments from death after two strangers spiked her cocktail with GHB, according to the Toronto Sun.

“I have a real problem with the ‘date’ rape drug, because there’s no date. GHB is a weapon,” Januszczak told a meeting of National Organization for Women in Palm Beach County, Fla., in 2010.

Individual reports of drug-facilitated sexual assaults are plentiful, but there is no source that tracks frequency. The most recent data on reported rapes at college campuses — which may not always involve a date, date rape drugs or even alcohol — dates back to 2014. Trends tracked by the U.S. Department of Education Campus Safety & Security program reveal about 100 institutions with at least 10 reported rapes on their main campuses. Rape prevention advocates are quick to point out that many, if not most rapes, go unreported at universities and otherwise.

“An estimated one in five women is sexually assaulted at college – and that’s totally unacceptable. We’re going to help schools do a better job of preventing and responding to sexual assault on their campuses,” said former President Barrack Obama in January 2014.

By five years ago and more, developers and inventors began working on silver bullet solutions that could alert potential victims that their drinks have been compromised with popular date rape drugs. There’s coasters, cups, straws, nail polish and even a smart device that has the potential to reverse drug-facilitated sexual assault trends. The following list of five detection gadgets discusses pros and cons, and their status.

#1 Only Coasters are Currently Available 

The biggest pro for this date rape drugs detection gadget by Drink Safe Technologies of Tallahassee, Fla., is that its available on their website and Amazon.com. Bars, schools, safety advocacy organizations, social groups and individuals can buy them and pass them out.

The coasters can be stored in a wallet or purse, and do not interact directly with a drink, which means the product did not require U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) approval.

Although usage may be thorny. The website indicates the coasters require light, two dabs or splashes of a drink and then a few minutes to determine if GHB or ketamine is present. Accuracy in usage may diminish based on user error and environment.

Drink Safe coasters do not detect for Rohypnol or roofies, which is a con for some, though Lance Norris of Drink Safe told NOVA in 2014 that roofies can turn a drink blue and are slow to dissolve. Another con is pH is a factor in testing some drinks — like margaritas, for example.

#2 The Nail Polish Launch May be Imminent 

Four engineering students at North Carolina State University began developing a nail polish to detect date rape drugs in 2015. Their company, Undercover Colors, was named the 2016 Startup to Watch by the North Carolina Technology Association.

Undercover Colors is wearable tech — a pro, in theory. A user dips a polished fingernail into a drink and the color of the polish will change if date rape drugs are present.

But according to the Alliance for Natural Health, the product is problematic because the detection chemical comes into contact with a person’s skin and food, and they say FDA is holding up this and other products like it.

While the nail polish is not yet available, the company has received funding, including $5.5 million in November, and the invention earned a mention — though not by name — on the popular show Modern Family, according to the company’s Facebook page.

The global partnership Vital Voices also gave the founders an award:

“Much to come in 2017…be sure to sign up on our website for updates!” the company posted in a reply to a thankful fan.

#3 Cups Were Invented in 2012

After being drugged while out one night, Boston attorney Michael Abramson went on to develop DrinkSavvy drinkware that continuously monitors beverages for date rape drugs. The company also developed straws that could detect GHB, ketamine and roofies.

Drink Savvy raised more than $50,000 in 2012 through a one-month crowdfunding campaign, according to CNN. The following year, Abramson told NBC Connecticut the products would soon be sold to bars and individuals.

However, the company has little information on its website and its social media properties. A reply to an inquiring Facebook fan in mid-year 2016 said, “Thanks for your patience, as we will be releasing hopefully at the end of this year!” A representative from the company told EfficientGov that patents are in place, and there are no issues with FDA, but products are still in development. “It’s simply a matter of incredibly complex chemistry and working out the R&D to get there,” said Brendan Walker of Drink Savvy.

#4 The Race for Smart Straws

DrinkSavvy is not the only one trying to bring a smart date rape drug detection straw to market. Three students at Gulliver Preparatory School in Pinecrest, Fla., invented Smart Straws that turn blue in the presence of the most common date rape drugs. Dubbed the Straw Ladies, they won first place in the 2017 Miami Herald Business Plan Challenge High School Track and are seeking patent protection.

But they may also have competition from a third team. An Israeli doctor and a chemist at Tel Aviv University developed a color-changing stick they debuted at a nano conference in 2011, according to Science Daily. The pocket-size device detected GHB and ketamine in ten microliter samples to 100 percent accuracy during a live demo of 50 drinks, some spiked. At the time, the team was working on expanding the technology to detect other date rape drugs.

The non-toxic medium works with an optical sensor, not active reagents. The device would be reusable and light up or beep, but there is no company website or further information on when and if the device will ever be produced. In 2012, the team indicated their Smart Straw invention needed funding.

#5 Personal Drink Gadget

Called the pd.id, the personal drink gadget is about the size of USB flash drive. The team in Toronto developed it to be reusable, simple and cost about $75, according to a closed crowdsourcing campaign. Red and green LED lights tell the user if a drink is safe or not. It could also send smartphone alerts if a drink is drugged.

The device uses light to determine if date rape drugs are present. It can be rinsed with water.

While the website is limited to a splash page and the company’s social media properties have been relatively inactive since 2014, a post to its Facebook page in December said, “we just received two grants worth $45,000 from the Canadian Federal and Ontario Provincial Government towards further scientific research to make this project happen!!”

About the author

Andrea Fox

Andrea Fox

Andrea Fox is Editor of EfficientGov.com and Senior Editor at Praetorian Digital. She is based in Massachusetts.