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“Rape Drug” Cases Against Former Pro Football Star May Be Collapsing


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Today Darren Sharper, the former NFL star who played for the Green Bay Packers, the Minnesota Vikings and the New Orleans Saints, will appear in an LA courtroom on charges of rape. He has pleaded not guilty. His lawyer has said that the sex between him and his accusers was consensual. She is demanding that the court force the DA to hand over what she claims is exculpatory evidence that the DA has hidden from the defense.

Nine women in five states have accused Sharper of drugging them with Ambien and alcohol and then sexually assaulting them. The incidents took place between fall 2012 and January, when he was arrested.

Yesterday, the DA in Miami announced that he was declining to press rape charges, a development suggesting that the evidence in the Florida case has more holes in it than previously thought. How this might impact the rape charges in California and Nevada is not yet known.

As an alleged serial rapist, Sharper is charged with carrying out the crimes in exactly the same way. In each assault, Sharper has been accused of knocking out his victims with a “cocktail” of alcohol and Ambien (zolpidem), the popular sleeping pill that Sharper has long been prescribed to treat insomnia related to head injuries he sustained on the football field. He reportedly took the drug on a nightly basis. He had 20 Ambien pills on him when police arrested him.

In recent years Ambien has replaced Rohypnol and GHB as the go-to “rape drug” because it is easy to get a prescription (with refills) and it is a cheap generic. An unfortunate irony is that the characteristics that made Ambien a breakthrough sleep aid when it hit the market also make it especially conducive to getting away with sexual assault. The drug is fast acting and its effects can be sudden, almost like a light switch being turned off. Because it leaves the body quickly, toxicology tests can identify it only if conducted within 24 or, at most, 48 hours—and rape victims often do not report assaults that fast. Ambien can also induce amnesia. Alcohol, a depressant, increases the sedative potency of the drug.

Ambien has gained notoriety for occasionally causing people under its influence not only to sleepwalk but also to exhibit bizarre behavior. The “Ambien defense” has been used successfully in cases of murder, assault, drunk driving and other crimes. This could further complicate building a solid case against Sharper.