Boston Man Invents Straws And Cups That Detect Date Rape Drugs
- Written by: Anne Moste Added by: Lauren T
- Thursday, August 8th, 2013
When you and your friends are out on the town, do you keep an eye on your drink? It’s been years since the first warnings against colorless, odorless, tasteless “date rape” drugs, but they’re still showing up in bars, restaurants, at parties, and on college campuses. But, one Boston inventor and attorney aims to put a stop to them.
Michael Abramson is sitting in a bar overlooking the harbor in South Boston’s Seaport neighborhood.
It’s the kind of place he comes for drinks with friends after work. Right now he’s eyeing the plastic straws… on the bar and in his drink.
“Your straw is constantly in your drink throughout the entire night. And let’s say now somebody slips GHB into your drink…”
GHB is one of the most common synthetic “date rape drugs.” It comes in liquid, powder and pill form, and it has powerful euphoric and sedative effects.
“Your straw would actually change color. Any part that is touching the drink would actually then change color. And it would be designed, too, so it would be clear that there was a color change happening, there would be no question about it,” Abramson said.
Red stripes on the straws and cups would indicate the drink has been contaminated. It’s an idea Abramson has turned into a business, under the name DrinkSavvy. He’s working with two professors at his alma mater, Worcester Polytechnic Institute, to develop his first line of plastic straws and cups. He’s also working on glassware. [Watch a video of how it works below]
“Whatever you’re drinking from – your cup, your straw, your stirrer, your glass – whatever it is that you’re drinking from, if that were also the indicator that would change color if somebody has drugged your drink, well you’ve got continuous monitoring of your drink, you’ve got something that’s completely discreet, and totally effortless on the part of the end user,” he said.
Abramson’s patent is pending, and he’s working to make the price of his cups and straws comparable to regular ones already on the market. He has support and office space in the MassChallenge startup center on Fan Pier, and he’s also a practicing patent attorney at a firm in Boston, but perhaps most significant is Abramson’s personal connection to his product.
“I got the idea after the unfortunate experience of being drugged myself,” he said.
Date-rape drugs are often associated with female victims, but Ambramson said men are drugged, too- often to be robbed.
“It was about three years ago. I was at a club in Boston and I had my first drink of the night and a few sips into it started to feel much more like my 15th drink. And the next thing I really remember is my friends throwing me over their shoulders and saying, 'They’re throwing you out, they’re throwing us out.'"
Abramson said he woke up the next day in his apartment, relatively unharmed. He doesn’t think he was robbed. But he couldn’t remember what had happened and he had a terrible hangover. He did not go to the hospital. And that’s common among people who suspect they’ve been drugged.
“A lot of times people don’t have a clear memory of what happened," he said. "And while they’re trying to sort it out, time is passing for those toxicology screens to be done.”
Meg Bossong is spokeswoman for the Boston Area Rape Crisis Center. The organization collects data on rape and sexual assaults through its hotline and from hospitals, even incidents that aren’t reported to police. She said she doesn’t have data on the prevalence of so-called “date rape” drugs. And police and emergency room doctors agree, it’s very difficult to track since so few cases are reported, in part because of shame.
“It’s very hard to catch those drugs in the system," she said. "There’s a time limit for when you can catch those drugs in a toxicology screen. It’s about 72 hours.”
But these drugs can leave victims physically helpless, unable to refuse sex, and unable to remember what happened to them.
That’s why Abramson aims to bring his straws and cups to market and sell them to bars, restaurants and college campuses first. He’s raised $52,000 through the crowd funding Web site Indiegogo.
“I get emails almost weekly from people who have had much worse experiences than I have. And it’s really sad to hear but it’s also encouraging for me to get on it and try to make something that can actually prevent it from happening to anybody else.”
Abramson has promised his funders he’ll have straws and cups for them by September.