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Researchers develop pocket-sized “date rape” drug detector

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August 9, 2011

A new sensor that detects the presence of GHB and ketamine could help reduce the incidence...

A new sensor that detects the presence of GHB and ketamine could help reduce the incidence of drug-assisted sexual assault (Image: TechCocktail via Flickr)

According to the U.S. Department of Justice, around 200,000 women were raped in the U.S. in 2007 with the aid of a "date rape" drug - and because so many cases go unreported, the actual figure is believed to be 80 to 100 percent higher. GHB is one of the most commonly used drugs because it is odorless, tasteless and invisible when dissolved in water. Now researchers at Tel Aviv University's Sackler Faculty of Exact Sciences have developed an easy-to-use sensor that, when dipped into a cocktail, can instantly detect GHB and another commonly used date rape drug, ketamine.

The researchers say that real time date rape drug detection has been impossible until now because of the lack of a sensor sensitive enough to detect the drugs. Adding to the difficulty of proving the presence of such drugs is that after a few hours they become undetectable in the human bloodstream. With rates of drug-assisted sexual assault a growing problem around the world, the TAU researchers set about developing a sensor that was lightweight, discreet and could be carried in a pocket or purse.

The system they developed works on simple optics principles, says Professor Fernando Patolsky. Although date rape drugs are colorless and odorless when mixed into a cocktail, they do subtly change the optical properties of the drink and it is this change that the new sensor detects. When a ray of light comes into contact with a drugged drink, a "signal change" occurs and the sensor sounds an alarm. A commercial version of the sensor could emit a beeping noise or a small flashing light for use in the dark and loud environment of a bar or club.

Tests conducted showed the sensor detected both GHB and ketamine with 100 percent accuracy and no false positives. Prof. Patolsky says that just one to ten microliters is required for the sensor to detect the drugs.

The TAU team is currently working to miniaturize the system so it is easy and affordable for personal use. Although GHB and ketamine are the two most commonly used date rape drugs, the researchers are also looking to widen the range of drugs that the sensor can identify.

When the sensor becomes commercially available, Prof Patolsky says it might look like a pen or clip that is easy to dip into a glass. A disposable cartridge inside that is responsible for recognizing the presence of a drug would cost less than a dollar and be able to identify two or three spiked drinks before needing to be replaced.

All elements of the system have been patented with TAU's technology transfer company, Ramot, so - unfortunate as it may be - it might not be too long before the sensor is an essential inclusion in any woman's purse on a night out.

About the Author
Darren Quick Darren's love of technology started in primary school with a Nintendo Game & Watch Donkey Kong (still functioning) and a Commodore VIC 20 computer (not still functioning). In high school he upgraded to a 286 PC, and he's been following Moore's law ever since. This love of technology continued through a number of university courses and crappy jobs until 2008, when his interests found a home at Gizmag.   All articles by Darren Quick
11 Comments

This is good, really good.

Renārs Grebežs
10th August, 2011 @ 12:27 am PDT

What a sick world, what happened to humanity that we need this technology for women, to be safe when going in to a club?!

Leaves one almost speechless.

Martin Walzek
10th August, 2011 @ 01:06 am PDT

Indeed, and the sad part of this all, those pathetic sacks of SHAIT that do these things have more rights in the court of LAW than we do... don't believe me... just try and defend yourself, or someone you love ,against one of them, and then see how big the world of trouble you will find yourself in, is going to be...

Michiel Mitchell
10th August, 2011 @ 09:52 am PDT

They use changes in optical properties and are developing it in water, so, presumably, it works in gin and vodka. How about non-clear drinks -- whiskey, brandy, rum, wine, etc.?

Page Schorer
10th August, 2011 @ 11:00 am PDT

This definitely is really good.

@ Martin. I think the answer to your question might be found in two different directions:

1. Rape has always existed. Drugs replace brute force and a wooden club more frequent in ancient times. Rapists of the present are no macho men but rather mentally weak weirdos.

2. Until fairly recent times, most people had to relate to the same social environment most of their lives. Whatever they did would be noted by all around them. Today the word "shame" has mostly negative connotations, not without reason of course, but in a more closed social environment fear of "shame" was an extremely powerful prevention of bad actions. Also the existence of this ultimate "shame", meant there was an equally strong social emotion about taking care of the ones needing and deserving it.

In our society, virtually all creeps will find a space where they can feel invisible in the great mass of people, or they can create an illusion of, or an actually existing smaller context where their weak minds find accept for ugly attitudes. Thus the weaklings can feel strong by hurting the innocent or trusting or defenceless.

I have no remedy for this. Reverting to the society of old times is not realistic, and personally I would probably dislike sides of it, but helping potential victims to avoid trouble, like this detector, helps a lot. Very clearly stating our total contempt for the ugly weak minded criminals, and attacking the arenas where they feel safe might be another interesting solution. One is: I like rap, also "gangsta-rap" but the attitude reeks of stupid "pussycat-macho" and can easily be seen as acceptance for treating girls badly. Most sides of society has environments where the perception of reality is twisted. Telling them your opinion helps.

Personally, the thought of rapists makes me very angry. I never carry any type of weaponry, but if I ever witness a rape, the criminal will not survive it. Possibly the knowledge of such dis-acceptance growing in a society could stop a few rapes? Rapists are often violent, but they are ALWAYS weak cowards. They can be defeated by a bit of courage and a strong will.

Stein Varjord
10th August, 2011 @ 11:23 am PDT

GHB has never been actually recorded in a date rape because it isn't tasteless. It tastes like salt and most people would taste a drink with GHB and instantly assume that someone was pulling a prank by pouring salt in the drink and replace the drink. The real issue with GHB is that it is used in other countries as a mood elevator that competes with Prozac and other anti-depressants. Since GHB occurs naturally in the body it can't be patented, so pharmaceutical companies hate it and created the date rape myth.

dabear64
10th August, 2011 @ 12:26 pm PDT

This is more urban myth than reality. GHB tastes like rotten sea water no matter what you put it in.

I am dismayed that a real social problem is simpliifed to a matter of evil predators attacking innocent victims.

Sherwin Kahn
11th August, 2011 @ 08:13 am PDT

Dont be a victim whether you are guy or gal!

Leong Hee Chan
12th August, 2011 @ 02:54 am PDT

There are predators in the world, whether or not anybody thinks there 'shouldn't' be. This is one way of dealing with that fact.

David Anderson
13th August, 2011 @ 10:33 am PDT

This has already been done with drink coasters.

Foxy1968
18th August, 2011 @ 06:42 pm PDT

Not all the sharks are found in the sea.

JAT
12th December, 2012 @ 08:57 am PST
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