Staying Safe on Nights Out and the UK Needle Spiking Crisis

Amidst our current climate with incidents of female murders, rapes and sexual harassment, there comes another risk for women to be concerned about in their everyday lives.

An investigation by the BBC found that between 2015 and 2019 there were 2,650 incidents of drink spiking in England and Wales, a rise in reported cases and, you guessed it, around 72% of these victims are women. Of course, it is not just women who are plagued by this issue – adults all over the country are at risk of being spiked.

But, as if there wasn’t already enough to worry about, in the last few weeks reports have been flooding in of people being spiked via injection, particularly young women. These reports have erupted all across the UK, mostly in major cities, including: Liverpool, Edinburgh, London, Leeds and Nottingham (to name a few)! Similar reports have been made by men, but it appears that women are being targeted more so.

Reasons why needle spiking is on the rise are currently unknown, but quite frankly, students and young adults in the UK have had enough. Plans to ‘boycott’ nightclubs are ongoing, organised by the campaign group ‘Girls Night In’, they are scheduled to happen for one day for each city over the next few weeks. Dates and Instagram handles for the event in different UK cities can be found in the image below:

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The aim of the movement is to help raise awareness of the ongoing issue and ensure UK residents remain vigilant when on their nights out. The boycotts are also calling for action from nightclubs, police forces and the government to implement better measures to keep clubbers safe in the ongoing crisis. However, the issue has left many young women too mortified to attend any clubs or bars anytime soon, especially since the usual preventative measures like keeping hold of your own drink and covering your glass are not enough to protect you from the current needle spiking scare.

Measures currently being called to action include: increasing body and bag searches before entry into clubs (there has even been a petition made to make this a legal requirement for all night clubs, this is available to sign here) and increasing the number of police in city centres and nightclub heavy areas.

This issue is not only confined to the UK, but incidents of drug-facilitated sexual assault (DFSA), rape and spiking are a global phenomenon. A study in the U.S found that 61.8% of women subjects were positive for drugs used for DFSA. And in Australia, it was estimated by the Australian Institute of Criminology that between 3000 and 4000 incidents of drink spiking occurred between 2002 and 2003.

From reports in the UK and abroad, it appears that authorities, governments and entertainment establishments are not taking the ongoing issue as seriously as they should. As such, it is important that everyone, everywhere remain vigilant and aware of what can be done to protect themselves – and others -on a night out.

Common Substances Used

The most commonly used substance to spike drinks is alcohol, with the intent to intoxicate the victim, typically to either rob or sexually assault them.

Often, drugs are used to spike drinks. Commonly referred to as ‘date rape drugs’, however this doesn’t always mean that the substances are used with the intent to sexually assault the victim. These drugs include: tranquilisers such as Rohypnol,  Valium and Ketamine as well as the chemical Gamma-butyrolactone and Gamma-hydroxybutyrate. When combined with alcohol the drugs can have extreme sedative effects which, in some cases, can be lethal.

How to tell if Your Drink has been Spiked

According to a pharmacology professor at the University of Pretoria, these are the following ways that you can tell if your drink has been spiked, but it’s not as easy to detect as we may think:

Foggy appearance: 

If your drink appears foggy or as if its appearance has changed, be aware that your drink may have been spiked by a less water-soluble drug.

Change in Colour:

It is possible that some drugs used to spike drinks may cause colour changes. However, this entirely depends on the drug itself and what drink has been spiked. Drugs with colour may cause a change, but the typical date rape drug gamma-butyrolactone won’t cause colour changes, whereas Rohypnol is a tablet with a blue core and so will turn any clear drink blue.

Some colour changes however may not be detectable in darker drinks such as Coca Cola, and colour changes may be entirely undetectable in dark clubs.

Excessive Bubbles: 

There may be some bubbling associated with the addition of a drug to your drink. However, this would be impossible to detect if added to a carbonated drink.

Misconceptions to be Aware of: 

Some graphics being shared on social media are providing misinformation according to the pharmacology professor, the main myth: that we are able to detect a spiked drink if ice sinks. However, he does state that it is possible that there may be some remnants of sugar-like crystals on the ice before it begins to wash off, which may evidence spiking.

A large majority of the time, drugs used to spike drinks are odourless, tasteless and colourless and thus, you must be all the more careful when protecting your drink from being spiked.

How to Protect Your Drink from being Spiked

Go Out with Friends

Heading to a club or bar with friends is a much safer option when it comes to preventing your drinks from being spiked. Having extra sets of eyes to keep your drink out of harm’s reach is a wise move – especially when going to purchase drinks at the bar. Often, being in a bar or club on your own means you may be distracted, leaving you in a vulnerable position and at risk of being spiked. Make sure you keep your friends close on your next night out.

Cover Your Drink

NightCap is a recent invention that was launched in 2019. It is a drink spiking prevention method in the innovative form of a scrunchie which holds an elasticated cover for the top of your drink inside it. It has a gap for your straw, but otherwise, it covers your drink completely keeping it secure from any unwanted additions without your knowing. You can purchase your own NightCap here.

Don’t Drink from other People’s Glasses

We’ve all done it before, we’ve placed our drinks down for a split second and the next thing we know, it seems to have multiplied – unsure as to whose is whose. Keep hold of your own glass if you can, and don’t start drinking from other people’s glasses – you can never be sure where the glass has been and if it has been exposed to someone who has spiked it.

Keep an Eye Out for Changes in Your Drink

Like we mentioned earlier, there are some subtle changes that may indicate that your drink has been spiked, so it’s definitely worth being cautious of any changes to your drink throughout the night.

Do Not Leave Your Drink Unattended

Never ever leave your drink not under your watchful eye. Any unattended drinks are at an increased risk of being spiked without your knowing.

Don’t Accept a Drink from a Stranger

It is never a wise decision to accept a drink from a stranger. It’s impossible to know what their intentions are and – from a pessimistic perspective – it’s practically impossible to get something for nothing. What gain does a stranger get from giving you a free drink? Don’t trust a stranger or accept their drinks on a night out.

How to Know if You’ve been Spiked

Symptoms of drink spiking are not much different to the feelings we have when we are drunk or heavily intoxicated, symptoms including:

–   Lowered inhibitions

–   Memory loss or blackouts

–   Loss of balance or difficulty walking

–   Difficulty speaking

–   Difficulty concentrating

–   Visual problems including blurred vision

–   Feeling confused

–   Hallucinations

–   Paranoia

–   Nausea and vomiting

–   Unconsciousness

–   Sweating

–   Headaches

–   Exhaustion

If you feel that you have any of these symptoms during a night out, follow the advice below:

What to do if You Suspect that Your Drink has been Spiked

This same advice applies if you have a friend who you feel may have had their drink spiked.

Find a Member of Staff

If you’re in a club or bar and you feel that you may have had your drink spiked, find a staff member and – if you can – explain your situation. This will alert them to the incident so they can be more vigilant of spiking that day. They will be able to keep you safe and even call a ride to get you home, if you have a friend or someone that can look after you. At a later date, it would be best to get back in touch with the bar or club you were at and see if they have CCTV footage of the person that spiked your drink to report the incident to the police.

Don’t Attempt to Go Home on Your Own

If you have been spiked, do not attempt to go home on your own. Make sure you have someone with you at all times if you are planning on leaving the venue and make sure that whoever is escorting you is in a good state to do so.  

Keep a Friend With You

Find your friend and someone you trust to stay with you if you feel like you have been spiked. They should keep talking to you and keep you occupied and in a state of consciousness.

Seek Medical Attention

If you have been physically or sexually assaulted, you should seek medical attention urgently to ensure that you have not sustained any injuries, contracted any sexually transmitted diseases (STIs) or have become pregnant.

If you require support and advice from confidential services about your incident, there are different services you can seek before reporting your incident to the police, some of these include:

·  Calling your local GP or practise nurse

·  Survivors UK: Dedicated to supporting male survivors of sexual assault and abuse. They have an online chat function available from Monday to Sunday from 12pm to 8pm or you can contact them via SMS on 020 3322 1860.

·  Victim Support: Offering support and advice to those affected by a crime or a traumatic event. Their support line is available 24/7 on: 08 08 16 89 11 or you can use their live chat function.

·  Rape Crisis: Providing help and support to those who have suffered through acts of sexual abuse, rape and sexual violence. Contact their national telephone helpline everyday between 12pm and 2:30pm and 7pm and 9:30pm on 0800 802 9999, or use their live chat function, open at different times on Monday to Friday.

You can also find international hotlines and other countries other than the UK’s hotlines for rape and sexual assault here.  

Report the Incident to the Police

If your incident of spiking resulted in a serious injury from physical assault or robbery, or if you were sexually assaulted, you should report this incident to the police as soon as possible. They will be able to ask you for information about your attacker and attempt to find and hold them accountable for their actions.

What to do if You Think You’ve been Spiked with a Needle

According to a survey by The Tab, a minimum of 2,600 students and young adults think that they have been spiked in bars and clubs on a night out since the academic year started in 2021 in the UK.

As soon as you are aware that you may have been stabbed with a needle, you must:

·  Wash the suspected site of injection with water and soap to sterilise it then cover it with a plaster so it is not exposed.

·  There is the possibility that the needle was not sterile upon injection, and thus you must get to a sexual health clinic or A&E department as soon as possible. The necessary tests to see if HIV or Hepatitis has been contracted can then be conducted. You must do this within 24 hours of the event so that, if in the case you have contracted something, the necessary medication and treatment course can begin to be administered.

How Will Increased Drug Searches Affect Clubbers?

How will an increase in drug searches impact the prevalence of recreational drug use on nights out? Well, you’d think that those who take drugs on nights out and into clubs or bars for recreational use (including drugs like cocaine and ketamine) will be at an increased risk of getting their drugs reprimanded before entry and reported to the police. But, is this really the case?

Increased drug searches doesn’t mean that more people will be arrested for possession of illicit and illegal substances or taken under suspicion of spiking, in my opinion, it just means people will end up having to be more savvy about sneaking drugs into pubs and clubs. Not that an increase in body and bag searchers in the UK means that you would get caught with drugs, but the chances are slightly higher. 

This means it is all the more important to be aware of the risk of spiking on your nights out. If recreational drug users are capable of sneaking drugs into clubs despite increases in body and bag searches, those with malicious intent to spike and harm clubbers will no doubt be able to do so as well. 

In our current day and age, it’s becoming increasingly important to look after yourself and your peers. The club scene is getting more dangerous by the month in the UK, and it wouldn’t be absurd to assume that the recent incidents in the UK might begin to appear in other countries around the world. And so, if you want to continue to have a good night out, push for clubs and bars, police forces and governments to take action to prevent spiking and sexual assault, and ensure that you are taking the necessary precautions to keep you and your friends safe.

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Charlotte Pitts

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