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Coasters Test for Date Rape Drugs

Can coasters that test for date rape drugs help solve the University of Oregon’s sexual assault problem? Or are they a drop in the bucket of a larger institutional issue? 

The Courtside and Skybox apartments teamed up with local medical supply company Med-Tech Resource to provide current and potential residents with coasters that test for the date rape drugs ketamine and gamma-Hydroxybutyrate (GHB), says property manager Sandra Coombs. 

The coasters are promotional material and designed to raise awareness of sexual assault in UO’s campus community.

A survey done by UO professor and institutional betrayal expert Jennifer Freyd released in 2015 reported that approximately one in five women say they’ve been subjected to rape or attempted sexual assault at the UO, and the university has been at the center of several high-profile sexual assault cases in the last couple years. 

“It’s a great way to get our brand and name out there,” Coombs says, “and it’s also great for raising awareness.”

Coombs says she was given a marketing budget to promote the apartments and her brother, Michael Coombs, a Med-Tech representative, proposed the distribution of coasters with the rental company’s insignia. 

The coasters are the product of a campaign Med-Tech launched about a year and a half ago, says Med-Tech owner Michael Modrich, but it didn’t succeed as they expected. 

“We’d contacted some sororities and bars in the area, to see if they wanted to promote a safe environment,” Modrich says, “and it really didn’t take off a lot.”

Modrich says personal interest spurred the product. His daughter, a UO graduate, uses the drink tests regularly when she goes out. He adds, “There was a time where I was obviously very concerned, reading all the reports on what was going on.” The goal is awareness more than profit.

The coasters are about $1.60 with a company logo printed on them, and they can test up to two drinks per coaster. Users apply two drops of liquid, and the coaster turns blue. 

A less expensive alternative is available, Modrich says: “We have this little book that looks like a little package of business cards that can do the same thing, but they cost significantly less because they’re not as thick, and they’re not designed to be handed out as much as just to put in a girl’s purse.”

“Here in Eugene, we’ve had a big huge problem with it, especially on the UO campus,” Michael Coombs says of the sexual assault issue. “Which is something I don’t like to say too much because I’m an Oregon Duck and I don’t want anything to go bad there.”

Michael Coombs, who has two daughters, says he’s doing everything he can to decrease the percentage of women who are date raped and make sure his children don’t have to deal with such threats when going to school, adding, “It’s just scary.” 

John VanLandingham, assistant director of the Lane County Legal Aid’s Survivors Justice Center, says, “From my perspective, anything that educates people about date rape strikes me as a good idea. This just strikes me as a clever way for a particular landlord to appeal to a particular market, which is young people, going to college and concerned with date rape.”

Rape survivor and UO graduate Laura Hanson says she wants to see the UO itself do more to combat sexual assault. “It seems like a fine product,” she says of the coasters, “and it’s great people are trying to solve the problem, but I’m worried that it would provide a false sense of security.”

The coasters would not have prevented her own sexual assault, which she says involved a date rape drug. “I was handed a can of beer at a house party,” and students are not going to carry the coasters around at parties. “Men and women should feel safe and trust their peers,” she says.

 “It shouldn’t be put on the victims to protect themselves,” Hanson adds.