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Drug-facilitated violence: development of analytical methods for identifying drug-facilitated sexual assault substances and monitoring in large cities in São Paulo

Grant number: 23/07323-1
Support Opportunities:Regular Research Grants
Duration: February 01, 2024 - January 31, 2026
Field of knowledge:Health Sciences - Pharmacy - Toxicological Analysis
Principal Investigator:José Luiz da Costa
Grantee:José Luiz da Costa
Host Institution: Faculdade de Ciências Farmacêuticas (FCF). Universidade Estadual de Campinas (UNICAMP). Campinas , SP, Brazil
Associated researchers: Renata Cruz Soares de Azevedo


The term drug-facilitated crime (DFC) refers to criminal practices carried out through the use of psychoactive substances that alter the victim's perception. Among the main DCF, we can mention sexual crimes (rape), abuse against vulnerable people (elderly people, children or individuals with special needs) or crimes against property (extortion, theft). Criminal acts committed by administering a substance to a person with the intent to impair behavior, perception, or decision-making. Drug-facilitated sexual assault (DFSA) is a type of DFC that can be defined as a form of sexual violence against an incapacitated or unconscious victim due to the effects of psychoactive substances. DFSA can be characterized both in cases where substances are secretly administered to the victim, and in cases where the criminal takes advantage of a victim after voluntary ingestion of the psychoactive substance. Psychoactive substances used in DFSA can alter the victim's level of consciousness, judgment and/or memory. Such substances can make the victim vulnerable and unable to defend himself against the aggression he is being subjected to. DFSA investigation is challenging and requires toxicological testing for a wide range of psychoactive substances, with relatively low detection limits to broaden the window of detection. More than 50 drugs are known to have been used in DFSA, and each year new drugs may be used for the same purpose. Illicit and licit drugs, in addition to new compounds that are produced and marketed, create challenges for toxicology laboratories that are responsible for carrying out sensitive and comprehensive screening tests, since their molecules are different. With this, the development of a new analytical method for the identification of more comprehensive and sensitive drugs that facilitate crimes is important to contribute to the laboratories that carry out these analyses. Several countries have epidemiological surveys on DFC (or specific for DFSA), with information that includes which substances are most commonly related to these crimes in that region. This type of information, of great importance for public safety and health, does not yet exist in Brazil. This type of information provides not only epidemiological and statistical support, but also helps clinical and forensic toxicology laboratories to organize their analytical services for this demand, which has several peculiarities that need to be respected. In addition, identifying which substances are related to DFSA can support public policies to alert and prevent this type of violence. In Brazil, there is no standardized scope for clinical and forensic laboratories that perform toxicological analysis. Consequently, each laboratory works following its own definitions of analytes to be researched. The existence of a survey that points out which substances are most related to a specific type of crime (eg: DFC or DFSA) can guide Brazilian laboratories towards scientifically based harmonization.The aim of this project is to develop analytical methods for identifying which are the most prevalent psychoactive substances in DFSA occurred in two large Brazilian cities (São Paulo and Campinas). This project will contribute to supplying the lack of analytically based epidemiological data on DFSA in two large Brazilian cities. It is expected to identify which substances are most related to this type of crime in Brazil. It will also have an important educational aspect, as it will allow the dissemination of alerts to the population, with scientifically based information on the occurrence of DFSA in the country. It will also help clinical toxicology centers and forensic toxicology laboratories, in the improvement of clinical and laboratory diagnosis of poisoning caused by these substances, by directing them to what would be the most prevalent substances in our country, and which consequently need to be part of the methods of identification. (AU)

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