Four college students have just leapt onto your newsfeed with their development of a color-changing new nail polish that claims to detect date rape drugs when you stick your finger into your drink. It seems every month a new product appears that will save us from being roofied — from test strips in coasters, cups and straws, to your drink stirrer — they will all become minilabs. Except that they won’t work, from their execution to their premise, and exist in a fantasy world of stranger danger pill-packing predators and irresponsible victims.

While the media cheers, we suffer from a severe lack of any actual data on whether these testing kits function. Daytime TV is not a reliable source of data. A study of commercially available “date-rape” drug testing coasters found that they were unreliable — changing color for things like different brands of mineral water, taking an extremely long time for ketamine, and giving a false positive once milk was used. Another study of commercially available card testing kits found that in laboratory conditions, testers only correctly detected two out of three drugged samples. An interactive lesson at University at Buffalo found that the GHB test was only an acid test. Anything acidic: wines, fruit juices, would have caused it to turn positive. Compounding the issue, GHB also occurs naturally in wines.

media-cheers While the most frequently used drug in date rapes or DFSAs is alcohol, multiplestudiesfound the most common substances were cannabis, cocaine, and MDMA. GHB and Rohypnol were found to be relatively rare.

These tests focus their attention on three to four drugs, GHB (γ-Hydroxybutyric acid), Rohypnol or “roofies” (flunitrazepam), Xanax (alprazolam), and Special K (ketamine). All of these drugs can weaken your resolve, and knock you out at a high enough dosage. Even if these kits worked and were 100% reliable, this is a losing battle. Wikipedia lists over 100 benzodiazepines like Xanax and Rohypnol including phenazepam (which can cause you to black out for days) and etizolam. Going beyond benzos adds hundreds more sedatives/hypnotics like Benadryl (diphenhydramine) and Unisom Sleep Tabs (doxylamine) which can be bought over the counter.

And we can’t forget the stimulants like cocaine and meth, the empathogens like MDMA or ecstasy, non-benzo drugs like Ambien, which I can personally attest to producing blackouts, and opioids like Vicodin (hydrocodone) and Percocet (oxycodone). You can create a universal testing kit, and trudge off to each bar with a bag filled with highly corrosive sulphuric acid reagents, an arsenal of test strips, microplates, pipettors, and for every single one of your drinks, use up a bunch of pipettor tips in order to sample. Even that suffers from a lack of imagination.

The designer drug explosions means that there’s an entire galaxy of drugs that are just a molecular tweak away. Rapists watch TV and read the Huffington Post. They will know when these things come out and they’ll adapt accordingly. So pack up a 40-pound combined gas chromatograph and the mass spectrometer, and lets drop in a Raman spectrometer as well to test every drink and then learn to read the results. But this too, is futile.

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I’ve used colorimetric test kits. In a well-lit office, testing one specific substance on its own, with the aforementioned highly corrosive sulphuric acid reagents and plenty of time. A bar is dark and noisy. Nightclubs add flashing colored lights, blacklights, lasers and friends telling you to get back to the dancefloor. The drink is a mixture of hundreds of various molecules bouncing around in ethanol and water. All of that trouble for an unreliable test that you have to interpret in a chaotic environment.

Our criminal social ill has turned into a hashtag for peddling products, but how likely are you even to get spiked? The Bureau of Justice Statistics says 78% of rapes are perpetrated by someone the victim knows, 34% were committed by a current or former romantic partner and 38% were committed by a friend or acquaintance. When the crime occurs in a romantic or possibly sexual setting, it’s specifically referred to as date rape. When date rape is committed with the aid of drugs like alcohol or roofies, it’s called “Drug Facilitated Sexual Assault” (DFSA). Despite media frenzy and a moral panic that resulted in the ban of GHB and the reformulation of flunitrazepam so it cannot hide in drinks, the statistics don’t support an epidemic of DFSAs. A 2007 study from the National Institute of Justice found that only 2.4% of victims were or suspected to have been roofied. In one study in inner London, just 8% said their drinks were spiked, but they mostly tested positive for MDMA and cannabis. An Australian study also found that drink spiking was extremely rare, and that most likely, it would be someone secretly sneaking more alcohol in your drink.

These testing kits are a false panacea. If GHB, roofies, and ketamine disappeared, date rape would still exist. Trying to solve a social problem of date rape with questionable technology is a band-aid. Even worse, this is a solution for avery specific problem that the statistics say is extremely rare.

ghb-roofies-existInstead of promoting anti-rapist snake oil that advertises safety from sexual assault, all of us should be making a concerted effort to eradicate that part of our society that still says it’s ok to get a person so drunk or high they can’t say “no,” that part of our culture that says you are “owed” or “deserve” sex for being a “nice guy,” or even as a partner.

We like simple fixes, especially with an entrepreneurship startup twist of a few young men at an accelerator straight out of university. But again, these testing kits place the blame back on the victim: “Why didn’t you wear that nail polish?”