Abuse liability of flunitrazepam

James H. Woods, Gail Winger

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

77 Scopus citations


Flunitrazepam is among the most frequently prescribed hypnotics in many countries. Although it was never marketed in the United States, flunitrazepam, in recent years, has been smuggled into the country, and reports of abuse-including alleged use of the drug to facilitate 'date rape' have attracted a great deal of scrutiny. It has been suggested that flunitrazepam may have greater liability for abuse than other benzodiazepines; such suggestions are supported by surveys of opioid abusers, many of whom report a distinct preference for flunitrazepam over other benzodiazepines. Experimental studies of animals and normal human subjects indicate that, although flunitrazepam has high efficacy and is very potent, it is pharmacologically similar to most other benzodiazepines. Although the studies are limited in number and scope, the data show no apparent differences between flunitrazepam and other benzodiazepines in ability to produce drug-taking or drug-seeking behavior, in capacity to produce physiologic dependence, nor in the characteristics of withdrawal after administration of an antagonist or discontinuation of treatment. Similar to other benzodiazepines, flunitrazepam produces dosedependent effects on psychomotor performance and recall. Flunitrazepam does not seem to be involved in medical emergencies more often than other benzodiazepines, and there is no indication that flunitrazepam is more toxic than other benzodiazepines when taken in overdose by drug abusers or other individuals. Survey research among typical patient populations suggests that flunitrazepam is characteristic of benzodiazepines in that it is used appropriately and conservatively, with low liability for abuse. Thus the reported preference for flunitrazepam among opioid abusers seems to be the only way in which flunitrazepam is distinguished from other benzodiazepines; it is unclear what characteristics of the drug may be responsible for this reported preference. The evidence considered in this review indicates that abuse of flunitrazepam in this special population is not associated with any distinctive threats to the health of the general public.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1S-57S
JournalJournal of Clinical Psychopharmacology
Issue number3 SUPPL. 2
StatePublished - Jun 1997
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Pharmacology (medical)


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