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Free Minds & Free Markets

Would You Buy a Cocktail Napkin That Detects Date Rape Drugs?

It’s a cool idea—but how common is the crime it’s supposed to stop?

Monkey Business Images/Dreamstime.comMonkey Business Images/Dreamstime.comAn entrepreneur at George Washington University has created a napkin that detects date rape drugs in drinks, and she intends to launch sales this fall. Junior Danya Sherman hopes her product, KnoNap, will beat the other date rape drug detection devices on the market. Inspired by her own experience with sexual assault while studying abroad, Sherman has won multiple awards, including her school's New Venture Competition.

It's hard to tell how often surreptitious drugging actually happens; it's typically done secretly and often hard to verify after the fact. Teen Vogue has reported that "one in 13 college students say they have been drugged, or suspect they have been drugged, in the past academic year." KnoNap representatives echoed this statistic when Reason reached out for comment.

But there's a big difference between being drugged and suspecting that one has been drugged. A 2010 study found that only 49 percent of suspected victims actually returned positive urine test results. In a 2007 study, only 19 percent did.

A 2005 University of Illinois at Chicago study found that 4.2 percent of the total subjects (who had all been sexually assaulted) were victims of surreptitious drug-facilitated sexual assault, specifically. A 2015 Brown University study came to a more alarming conclusion, finding that more than one in six freshman women are forced to perform sex acts they don't want to while drugged or drunk. But the Brown study lumps alcohol and other drugs together, making it hard to parse out just how common date rape drugs actually are, compared to plain old social drinking.

Any deceitful manipulation of someone's drink is wrong––whether that be spiking it with more alcohol or a drug designed to lower inhibitions, or taking advantage of someone who's far too intoxicated to know what they're doing.

Finding out how common date rape druggings are, and how common products like these prevent them, would be a step in the right direction for both market research and good public policy. There's demonstrated demand for these products among college students: the creators of Smart Straws, another date rape drug detection device, surveyed current students and found that 85 percent expressed interest in buying their products.

Sherman's product, KnoNap, claims to detects 26 of the 40 most common date rape drugs by changing colors when a drug is detected in liquids; the makers won't reveal precisely which drugs. Although disposable, the napkins can be used up to four times, and easily stored in a purse before going out. Sherman hopes businesses, universities, and other large institutions will adopt her napkins, though she currently has no price estimate for her product, except that she plans on making it affordable to her target demographics, college students and young adults.

"We wanted to create a product that could be seamlessly incorporated into any social setting. Napkins are always around alcohol," Sherman recently told the Florida station Fox4. "They are always in bars and clubs and we're working to have them integrated into fraternities, social events and social organizations."

A competitive market in date rape drug detection will probably do more to keep targets safe than most of the solutions on offer from the government. And Sherman's napkins certainly make more logistical sense than other offerings on the market. (Having a napkin you can dab on your lips or wipe on your hands makes more sense than sticking your painted nails into a drink, as other entrepreneurs have proposed.) Still, before handing out award after award to starry-eyed high school and college students, perhaps the judges and venture capitalists should consider: Just how common is the problem this is supposed to solve? All these napkins, nail polish, and straws might reveal that it's less common than we fear.

Liz Wolfe is a writer in Austin, Texas.

Photo Credit: Monkey Business Images/Dreamstime.com

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  • Tom Bombadil||

    "It's a cool idea—but how common is the crime it's supposed to stop?"

    Who gives a flying fuck? Is this a libertarian rag? Entrepreneur meets market. End of story.

  • colorblindkid||

    "A competitive market in date rape drug detection will probably do more to keep targets safe than most of the solutions on offer from the government. And Sherman's napkins certainly make more logistical sense than other offerings on the market."

    Still sounds pretty libertarian. If she wasn't libertarian, she wouldn't just be saying these napkins are useless, she would be trying to ban or regulate them.

    Nearly all of my friends have claimed they were drugged while out drinking when they blacked out. 99% of the time people who claim such things are just too embarrassed they drank too much. I, on the other hand, have never blamed my blackouts or the stupid shit I've done while shitfaced on anything other than be drinking too much.

  • Mickey Rat||

    There is a deep need in human psychology to blame dark outside forces for one's own poor choices.

  • Chipper Morning Baculum||

    "The Russians made me vote for Trump!"

  • Longtobefree||

    Thank God!

  • Ariki||

    #Patriarchy

  • Rhywun||

    I too felt the question posed in the subtitle was unnecessary. It's like asking someone considering purchasing a gun for self-denfense "but how common are break-ins really?"

  • Longtobefree||

    Apples / oranges
    There is no constitutional right to bear napkins - - - - - - - - -

  • ||

    At the same time, I could see an inherent enjoyment in going around testing for date rape drugs.

  • Naaman Brown||

    AMENDMENT IX

    The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be
    construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.

    Somewhere between the penumbras and the emanations of the Constitution as Amended there is a constitutional right to arms for lawful self-defense. Arms including both weapons of defense and armour for defense against offensive weapons. In this case, chemical weapons. A date drug detecting napkin being chemical armor against chemical offense.

  • Zeb||

    Reason does a lot of questioning or debunking of moral panics and overblown safety concerns. This fits in well with that.

  • Chipper Morning Baculum||

    Speaking of which, I want a napkin that detects the presence of clown make up.

  • Lester224||

    Why is that relevant? Either consumers buy it or they don't. As long as it does what it's advertised to do, no problem.

  • Adans smith||

    And the false positive rate is?

  • ||

    Maybe just as importantly, what prevents the napkins from reporting fake news? If Russian hackers spiked your drink, would you know?

  • Cynical Asshole||

    If Russian hackers spiked your drink, would you know?

    If Russian hackers spiked your drink it would be cartoonishly amateurish and you should be able to tell by the poor grammar and broken English.

    But you'll still blame Putin for your own bad choices.

  • I am the 0.000000013%||

    Since we know all men are rapists, I'm positive there can't be any false positives

  • Illocust||

    If it's coming out of GWU, you can be sure it is both feel good and impratical. Half the student body has maids at home and goes skiing in the Alps for spring break. They have no concept of the difference between luxury goods and normal goods.

    I say this as someone who graduated from there.

  • Conchfritters||

    They call that area Foggy Bottom because of all the date rape there.

  • Hail Rataxes||

    Tell us more about how your genitalia doesn't work, bro.

  • MarkLastname||

    That that's the first place you went makes me think this is more about you than him.

  • Rich||

    the 40 most common date rape drugs

    Including ethanol?

  • Conchfritters||

    Date rapes occur in Iowa too.

  • Chipper Morning Baculum||

    It usually involves some sort of corn syrup.

  • I am the 0.000000013%||

    Quite a lot of squealing also

  • Art Gecko||

    A cocktail napkin that detects date-rape drugs? Ummm.... alcohol is the most common and popular date-rape drug in the entire history of the human race.

  • Mickey Rat||

    Having a cocktail napkin beneath your drink is evidence of the presence of alcohol. So it does work.

  • ||

    Having a cocktail napkin beneath your drink is evidence of the presence of alcohol. So it does work.

    Cocktail napkins? Get a load of Mr. Ivy League over here! You'd probably like a fork and knife that detects carbs to go with it, huh?

  • Zeb||

    That's what I came here to say. I'm thinking that in a lot of cases where people think they were drugged, they drugged themselves with too much booze.

  • ||

    I'm thinking that in a lot of cases where people think they were drugged, they drugged themselves with too much booze.

    I'd be willing to bet that at least some of the time people don't even really think they were drugged.

  • Scarecrow Repair & Chippering||

    Wonder how much these will cost. Wonder how many neo-feminists will demand the cost be included in Obamacare, as contraceptives are. Wonder how many proggies will demand these be banned as patriarchal micro-aggression in lieu of changing the way rapists men think.

  • Longtobefree||

    Who has liability if someone is libeled or assaulted because of a false positive?
    Who has liability for a false negative?
    The only real answer is to prohibit women from drinking until age 30.

  • Cyto||

    Nah.... chicks are still hot at 30. Better move that up to about 40. Wait, check that.... maybe 45. I don't know. With photoshop these days it is hard to know where the line is.

  • I am the 0.000000013%||

    Hence the date rape drug of choice for men - alcohol.

    Incidentally, a goodly dose of Apple Pie can do wonders for lowering standards showing people's inner beauty.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    Hopefully this product is as reliable as the field test kits law enforcement use for sorting powdered sugar from blow.

  • Hank Phillips||

    Those ku-klux-kits are intended to facilitate rape and robbery. The napkins are designed to do the opposite.

  • Tony||

    Small straws?

  • Cynical Asshole||

    Feminist screeching in 3... 2... 1...

    "B-B-BUT, WOMYN SHOULDN'T HAVE TO TAKE RESPONSIBILITY FOR THEIR OWN SAFETY! JUST TEACH MEN NOT TO RAPE!"

  • Earth Skeptic||

    So chicks have to buy their own drinks?

  • I am the 0.000000013%||

    No need. Government will do that for them.

  • jjsaz||

    I'm a bit lost here. I don't see a pandemic of rape anywhere (that's not sexual assaults mind you) but where is the issue of a savvy marketer has found a niche, developed an effective solution and VC's want to back it.

    Making people feel confident is a highly valuable goal in, and of, itself. Nobody ever needed a pet rock or chia pet, but they made people feel good. The essential essence of capitalism is embodied here. Regardless of how real or imagined the threat is.

    Furthermore, the existence of rapists gives an obvious reason for any precaution not involving coercive government power. The essence of libertarianism.

  • Cyto||

    Great! Wanna invest in my tiger-repelling* bracelet? It also works to prevent alien abduction and bigfoot assaults.

    *bracelet's active field valid in the continental US, excepting zoos and animal control facilities. The presence of feline hair or dander may inactivate the bracelet. Use with caution. Do not taunt happy fun ball...

  • Hank Phillips||

    "...while studying abroad" is a clue to why gringos are so dumbfounded by the importance of the invention. In Colombia, dosing people with scopolamine was for a time so common US magazines even noticed. Where marijuana is illegal, as in Brazil, a Thalidomide-type drug called sth like Rohypnol was often dumped into people's drinks. There is an export market for those napkins.

  • Tony||

    I think I've only been drugged once or twice, but it's my own fault for being such a hot piece of beef.

  • Rossami||

    Unless these proposed napkins have an astoundingly low false-positive rate, they are going to do far more harm than good. This situation is ripe for fallacies of statistical interpretation.

  • Number 2||

    Practical question: so is a young lady (or a young man, or a person of any age, I guess) supposed to bring her own napkins to a bar, and substitute her own napkins for the bar napkins that the bartender provides?

  • Echospinner||

    I am skeptical.

    The article and those I can find say little about the product. Similar products include coasters, a straw and even a nail polish that is supposed to change color. There is no new technology here it is just in the shape of a napkin. It is not clear if even a prototype has been made or just a business proposal from a college junior.

    The underlying technology must be Enzyme Linked Immunoassay which has been around a long time. The other stuff around claims to test for two drugs and costs around $1 or more. She wants to test for 20. Seems that would be expensive. Then they won't say which drugs.

    Then how does it work in practice. Seems you would casually slip your own napkin out of your purse. You probably need a decent sample to activate it so dabbing your lips or putting it under your drink won't work. I think the nail polish is more subtle, she could just swirl the drink with her finger or something. Also college students don't drink in bars with napkins much, well maybe at Georgetown.

    I think this is making the rounds just because date rape is always a topic.

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