Date rape drugs could be discovered in drinks with a smartphone app


Scientists may have found a way for people to easily detect if their drink has been spiked (Photo: Getty)

Date rape drugs can be readily detected in beverages using smartphone apps.

Scientists have developed a test for GHB (Gamma Hydroxybutyrate) that detects color changes in drinks.

Currently, it is very difficult to detect substances even in laboratories that require well-trained staff.

GHB, also known as ‘liquid ecstasy’, is one of the most common date rape drugs in the UK after first gaining notoriety as a rave drug in the 1990s.

Class C drugs have strong sedative and amnestic effects. It is often associated with sexual assault incidents, poisonings, and overdoses.

People sometimes use gamma-butyrocatone or GBL, which is legal to buy in the UK even though it has the same effects as GHB when taken orally.

Dr Kevin Honeychurch, author of the study and Senior Lecturer in Forensic Chemistry at UWE Bristol, said:

“Recently, there has been an increase in reported drink spike cases in the UK, and high-profile cases related to misuse of GHB have appeared in the media.

“The application uses technology that is available to nearly everyone outside of a laboratory environment and can be operated without specialized training or complex laboratory equipment.”

The detection works by adding the readily available chemicals hydroxylamine and ferric chloride to the drink and checking the liquid with a free smartphone app to measure the level of purple color produced.

If the app detects a certain concentration of purple color, it indicates that the liquid likely contains drugs.

Using this approach, the team was able to determine the concentration of GHB in spiked lager samples.

Anselmo Procida, a forensic science student at UWE Bristol, added:

“Since smartphones are the devices most people carry and always have, testing can be done in the field when needed.

“It’s a simple test that allows you to taste the drink yourself, so you don’t need any specialized knowledge.”

The National Police Commissioners’ Council has reported around 5,000 spike incidents in the UK between September 2021 and September 2022.

However, this is a combination of both drink spikes and needle spikes.

This study was published in the Journal of Forensic Sciences.

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