An Undetectable Drug

Marra Clay and Mitchell Smith

Approximately five students who suspected they were drugged visited the hospital. Upon arrival at the emergency room, some students were tested for drugs by urine and blood analysis, while others were not.

According to Dr. Tom Underhill, ER Director and Chief Medical Officer at Walla Walla General Hospital, testing for dissociative drugs is very difficult.

“The symptoms themselves are so vague, there isn’t a [clear] symptom that makes me think they were drugged,” Underhill said. “Now, paranoia and anxiety often spin in, with good reason, but there isn’t a test that I have available to me in the ER that will come back within a week that I can say, ‘You were roofied.’ I don’t have that science, that technology does not exist here.”

Many of the Whitman students who attempted to get medical care were frustrated with the result.

“In the Health Center, I felt really embarrassed. I tried explaining to the nurse but she was just assuming that I was drunk and that was rude, unhelpful, invalidating,” an anonymous victim said. “When we got to the ER they were like similarly invalidating and unhelpful. I was the only woman of any of the women drugged that went to the ER that had my blood drawn.”

Testing for any dissociative drugs, such as ketamine (“Special K”), gamma hydroxybutyrate (GHB) and rohypnol (“roofies”), is particularly challenging because the drugs have a very short half-life, meaning they quickly leave the body. If an individual thinks they may have been drugged, then they would need to be tested within a few hours of ingesting the drug or it will not show up in the test results.

“I have never had a test that I have ordered for roofies, ketamine, any of these things, that I have sent off that I have gotten back that had any relevance to the time in the ER,” Underhill said. “You are closing that door in 6-12 hours.”

Dr. Christopher Jenkins works at both Whitman’s Health Center and also in the ER at Walla Walla General Hospital. Jenkins noted that emergency room doctors are often dependent on the friends of drugging victims for help with diagnosis. Friends are able to better distinguish when someone is acting in an altered mental state.

“It’s always helpful if somebody brings them in … but we don’t always get that,” Jenkins said. “The best case is that if you are going to a party to go with friends who can watch your back and if you start acting funny somebody can help you out. If you are going alone … you won’t have that protection. If something like that does happen, somebody can get you to the appropriate medical care to evaluate further.”

Though Underhill believes that the emotional affects of being drugged can be traumatic, he and Jenkins both focus on the physical safety of patients who come into the ER.

“Whether it’s ketamine, whatever dissociative drug that is causing this effects, or alcohol, it doesn’t matter to me. Does it matter to the student? Absolutely. It’s terrifying, the idea that someone taking your consciousness away is terrifying,” Underhill said. “Emotionally it matters hugely. If you were assaulted during it then it is critical, and I don’t intend to minimize that. But, from a medical perspective … does it matter? No. You survived it.”

Whitman Dean of Students Chuck Cleveland’s most recent email to students ended with: If you have any information that would be helpful to share with Whitman or the Walla Walla Police department, please call Chalese Rabidue (Domestic Violence Victims Advocate, 509.527.4434) or Juli Dunn ([email protected], 509.301.6824).  If you need confidential support, please call either the Counseling Center (509.527.5195), the Health Center (509.527.5281), or Hailey Powers (Sexual Assault Victims Advocate, [email protected], 509.526.3032).  If you would like to report anonymously, please do so through the online portal (