1 November 2021

Drink spiking can happen to anyone


Last week, after a black tie dinner at a private members’ club, I woke up to a series of WhatsApp messages from friends asking if I was alive and OK. This was quite out of the ordinary for me, and I didn’t understand why people were so worried. Nor could I understand how I had gone from fairly sober to completely obliterated with zero memory after a single drink later in the evening. This was until a friend described, in detail, my sudden inability to stay awake, maintain a conversation, or hold my head up. It was only then that I suspected that my drink may have been spiked.

Eager to fill in the blanks and understand the hours which had been unaccounted for, the data on my phone was a saving grace. WhatsApp messages showing my rapid deterioration and asking for help, Uber and drink-purchase receipts, and tracked location data among other pieces of intel were crucial in piecing together a timeline.

I then started to Google what to do and where to go. To my surprise, this was difficult to find, particularly on official government websites. Instead, I could only find a lot of information on ‘how to avoid having your drink spiked’. This was obviously unhelpful after-the-fact and really only confirmed that despite having done everything that they suggested – such as buying my own drink and not leaving it unattended – some degenerate still managed to spike my drink.

I knew I needed to get a drug test as soon as possible so I went to the A&E and told them that I believed that my drink had been spiked. The NHS staff were efficient and compassionate, and the doctor confirmed my suspicions: I had been given a ‘date-rape’ drug. With this information I felt more confident in reporting it to police who immediately took it seriously, classifying the crime as ‘assault’.

If you’ve even vaguely tuned into the media over the past couple of weeks, you would have seen that drink spiking – and the even more appalling act of spiking women with needles – has been on the rise throughout the UK. Incidents like mine suggest that these heinous crimes are more widespread than what has appeared to be localised to younger women in university towns and nightclubs. Without transparent police data and a suspected low reporting rate however, it is difficult to definitely know the true scale of the issue.

Despite this, it deserves attention and regardless of whether you supported the ‘Girls Night In’ protests that occurred last week, they did raise awareness about this important issue. And while I do not support their petition to mandate nightclubs to ‘thoroughly search guests on entry’, there are alternative legislative levers which could be pulled by the government.

For example a mandatory requirement for anyone working in the hospitality industry to undergo training to obtain a Responsible Service of Alcohol Certificate could be introduced, Such training should address drink-spiking and ensure bar staff take proper precautions, such as pouring drinks directly in front of patrons or removing unattended drinks from tables.

The maximum sentence for adding drugs or alcohol to food or drink without the person’s knowledge, could also be raised to 15 years in prison.

Non-legislative government-led actions could also include providing clear guidance on the national police and NHS websites for what victims should do if they believe that they have been spiked. This should include information on the types of drugs used, their respective symptoms (particularly symptoms likely to be felt the morning after), and the timeframe in which victims should get a blood and urine test and where to get one; an outline of what victims should expect when they attend A&E or report the crime to police; and a list of data points or information that police may find useful, such as maps of GPS tracking on smartphones, timestamps on photos, WhatsApp messages becoming more incoherent, receipts, and the recollection from friends describing the state that the victim was in.

NHS staff should be give guidance on procedures for collecting blood and urine from victims as ‘Chain of Custody’ samples, in the likely event that they attend an A&E first.

Finally, we need to shift focus onto the perpetrators. This could be done via a digital scare campaign to raise awareness of the fact that no matter their intention – whether it is to ‘prank’, sexually assault, rob, or abduct someone – the consequences are equally as serious; not only for them but also for their victim(s).

The Government, hospitality industry, front line services, and all patrons at venues where drink-spiking could occur, all have a part to play in making everyone feel safe on a night out. Everyone deserves to feel safe on a night out, but when drink spiking does occur, victims should be believed, taken seriously, and not made to second-guess themselves or feel embarrassed. It’s incumbent on us all to place responsibility firmly on perpetrators, not victims, and ensure these depraved individuals are caught and punished.

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Sarah Gall is a data scientist and strategist with a background in public health and epidemiology. She previously headed up political and policy research for the Prime Minister of Australia.

Columns are the author's own opinion and do not necessarily reflect the views of CapX.