‘I was paralyzed’: Kansas advocate urges lawmakers to add protections against date rape drug

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Advocates say testing strips for fentanyl and the date rape drug need to be freely accessible

TOPEKA — In the mid ’90s, Paula Mitchell was celebrating a college basketball win at a party hosted by one of the players.

As the designated driver for her friends, she was sticking to Dr. Pepper, but she started to feel sick after she was given another soda by a basketball player.

“I get halfway through that can and I start feeling funny,” Mitchell said. “I started getting dizzy, almost like I had been drinking.”

She was taken to a back bedroom to rest. When Mitchell awoke, she was being raped by four basketball players. Her Dr. Pepper had been laced with the date rape drug.

“I could not scream. I could not fight them off,” Mitchell said. “I was paralyzed by that drug.”

Mitchell, now a mother and an advocate for sexual assault victims, said there’s still a need for protections against the date rape drug. She said her own daughter recently was in danger.

Two weeks ago, Mitchell took her daughter and friends out to celebrate her 21st birthday at a Derby club. When her group moved away from the table, Mitchell saw a man drop something into their unguarded drinks. She alerted the bouncers, who called the cops. All of the drinks at the table tested positive for the date rape drug.

“If I didn’t see that, all those girls could’ve been in the same spot I was,” Mitchell said, breaking down during a Wednesday House Health and Human Services Committee hearing.

She urged lawmakers to advance a proposal to legalize testing strips for the date rape drug.

“If we had those strips, where we could test them ourselves, we wouldn’t be in this situation,” Mitchell said.

Under current state law, testing strips for gamma hydroxybutyric acid, known informally as the date rape drug, are classified as drug paraphernalia. House Bill 2390 would legalize testing strips for fentanyl, ketamine and gamma hydroxybutyric acid.

The bill also would establish a Kansas overdose fatality review board to prevent and mitigate drug overdoses in the state.

Brandy Harris lost her young son to a fentanyl overdose. She asked lawmakers to add more protections against fentanyl during a Feb. 15, 2023, hearing. (Rachel Mipro/Kansas Reflector)

Other women testified in support of the bill. Mothers Libby Davis and Brandy Harris both lost sons to fentanyl overdoses, a growing problem in the state.

“I am here as a mother, a mother that has had the worst thing imaginable taken from her, a child that I created,” Harris said. “My chance to be a grandmother someday.”

Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine. Legal fentanyl is prescribed for pain relief. Illegal fentanyl is commonly mixed with other drugs as an inexpensive way of creating a more powerful high.

Because fentanyl isn’t detectable without a test strip, people taking fentanyl-laced drugs are at a greater risk of overdose. A September 2022 Kansas Department of Health and Environment report on opioid vulnerability reported a 73.5% rise in Kansas drug overdose deaths between 2011 and 2020.

More than half of overdose deaths in 2020 were related to opioids. Of these 254 opioid deaths, 64.3% involved synthetic opioids, such as fentanyl.

Lawmakers voted to pass the bill out of committee, moving the legislation forward.

After giving their testimonies, the women, along with Rep. Jason Probst, a Hutchinson Democrat, crammed into the Statehouse elevator and rushed over to tell their stories again to lawmakers in the House Corrections and Juvenile Justice Committee, where similar legislation was being considered at the same time.

House Bill 2328 also would remove fentanyl, ketamine and date rape drug testing strips from the state’s list of drug paraphernalia.

Probst, who has been a driving force behind fentanyl test strip legalization, said the simultaneous hearings would improve the changes of getting one of the bills passed. He said he preferred HB 2390 because it was more expansive, but his focus is just getting legislation through.

“As we learned last year on this, it seems like you need as many avenues as possible to get some of these things done,” Probst said in an interview. “Especially if we’re going to try to overcome the reluctance in the Senate.”

While lawmakers have repeatedly raised concerns about rising fentanyl overdose rates in the state, legislation legalizing fentanyl testing strips was shot down by Senate Republicans last year.

Sen. Kellie Warren, R-Leawood, said during a Senate GOP caucus meeting last year: “The best warning to figure out whether your drug might have fentanyl in it is, you know, don’t buy the illegal drugs. Where’s the personal accountability in this policy?”

Rep. Stephen Owens, a Hesston Republican and chairman of the House corrections committee, referenced opposition to the bill during Wednesday’s hearing.

“This is a topic that has come up many times and has met resistance in different ways. And so our goal is within the House to try to approach it from a couple different perspectives,” Owens said.

Kansas Reflector is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Kansas Reflector maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Sherman Smith for questions: info@kansasreflector.com. Follow Kansas Reflector on Facebook and Twitter.

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Resources for survivors

If you have experienced sexual violence or trauma, please seek the help that’s right for you. There are many options available, and you don’t have to file a police report if you don’t want to.

Get 24/7 help in Lawrence: The Sexual Trauma & Abuse Care Center
  • Call 785-843-8985 to reach an advocate, 24/7. (Consider saving that number in your phone in case you or someone you know ever needs it.)
  • After an assault: What are my options? Check this page for detailed information about
    • talking to an advocate,
    • going to the hospital,
    • making a police report,
    • and/or talking to a counselor or therapist.
  • On campus? Check this page for specific resources for the University of Kansas, Haskell Indian Nations University, Baker University, Ottawa University and more.
Resources on KU’s campus:
  • Contact the CARE (Campus Assistance, Resource, and Education) Coordinator: Students can make an appointment by email, care@ku.edu, or by calling 785-864-9255. It’s free, confidential and voluntary to talk with the CARE Coordinator. All genders welcome. Read more here.
  • Find more KU campus resources at this link. Specific information about sexual assault exams can be found here.
  • Direct message KU CARE Sisters on Instagram. You don’t need to be affiliated with Greek Life to reach out and/or receive assistance. (Note: CARE Sisters provide peer support and education, but this is not a 24/7 service like others listed here.)
Domestic violence situations: The Willow Domestic Violence Center
  • Reach the Willow for help 24/7 at 785-843-3333.
  • Find more resources on the Willow’s website at this link.
More resources
  • StrongHearts Native Helpline: Call 1-844-7NATIVE (762-8483) for 24/7 safe, confidential and anonymous domestic and sexual violence support for Native Americans and Alaska Natives that is culturally appropriate.
  • National hotline: Call 1-800-799-SAFE (7233), text “START” to 88788, and/or visit thehotline.org to chat and learn more, 24/7.

Latest state news:

Kansas legislators, governor release $35.7 million tied to public university adherence to DEI law

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Gov. Laura Kelly and top legislative leaders voted Tuesday to allocate $35.7 million to public higher education after the Board of Regents certified that administrators complied with a state law forbidding employment and admissions decisions to be based on diversity, equity and inclusion policies.

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