Health: Drink spiking, clubbing's new threat

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In the last year or so, recorded instances of drink spiking have been increasing throughout the country, with a range of potential toxins being poured into drinks to inebriate the senses of an unsuspecting clubber. Both the media and the government have created their own spin campaigns in response to this new ‘threat’ – ie. don’t leave your drink unattended, go out with friends – in essence all pretty obvious to the relatively sensible club-goer.

Imagine the following situation: 10:00pm – You and your mates are checking out a new club, renowned for the 6 level, multi-storey 600,000 gigawatt subs designed to pop your eardrums. As usual, you order a drink… but within half an hour you are a stumbling mess. The lights are strobing, the music is drifting around the room, your head is pounding. And no, it’s not self-inflicted… 4:00am – you wake up at some unknown place with no memory of the night before but with a throbbing headache. No drink or drug has ever had that effect on you before. Pathology reports show you’ve ingested a cocktail made-up mainly of Rohypnol and GHB.

Welcome to the world of drink spiking…

Recent news headlines describe an epidemic of sorts – apparently 1 in 4 sexual assaults are drink-spike related. The first thing to remember in the fine print of most reports it states that it was a university study – meaning that a 2nd year undergraduate could have surveyed their friends and summarised the results. But what is scary about a few of the cases floating around is that the hotel owner and the head bouncer have been the masterminds of the drink-spiking debacle (in one case the owner of a hotel was inviting punters upstairs to ‘have a go’ on a sedated victim). The abuse of trust in this situation is phenomenal – and as a result, having a drink bought for you from a stranger has now become a big no, no.

While researching this article I discovered a number of frequent visitors to ITM who’d suffered at the hand of drink spikers, and countless reports from people who’d had friends endure the experience.

Case 1. C, 27 years, Brisbane

C is a regular club-goer who enjoys live music and having a drink with friends. One particular Friday night C a friend went to a well-known Brisvegas Irish pub to have a drink and wait for a group of friends to arrive. While waiting C consumed one drink and sat with her friend to have a chat.

In this time, an individual approached her and after a decent conversation, offered to buy a drink for her. Not long after consuming the second drink C met a larger group of friends and the potential beau moved away to the other side of the club. When C went outside to meet another friend she started to feel as if she had consumed more alcohol than she had. Within half an hour she had no control over herself, was violently ill, and had to be driven home by a friend.

Case 2. V, 19 years, Sydney

As is the case with most victims of drink spiking, V cannot be 100% sure he was a target. While out at a popular Sydney venue V started his night with a few drinks. Feeling slightly tipsy, V left a drink with a female friend while he made his way around the club. His friend placed the drink on a table behind her. He returned 5 minutes later and consumed the remainder of the drink, and within 30 minutes was feeling rather intoxicated.

V notes he felt confused, as he did not believe he’d consumed an amount of alcohol to warrant his level of intoxication. V made his way outside of the club, and soon after a friend went to look for him. The friend found V passed out outside the club. Once he regained consciousness V had trouble walking, was vomiting continuously and couldn’t see properly. V’s friends put him in a cab and sent him home, where he continued to vomit throughout the night and following day.

Despite the threat, there is hope for the worried drinker. Enter companies such as Drink Safe Technology, a new initiative from a Florida-based organisation offering a potential solution to this worldwide problem. About the size of a credit card, the Drink Spike Detector (similar to a litmus test) incorporates technology that displays a visible color change when a drink spiked with GHB or Ketamine is tested on the card. All you need is a drop of your drink onto the card to test it.

Now while Drink Safe is a step in the right direction, giving punters and club owners some sort of defence against this problem, it is by no means a foolproof method of analysis. Independent testing shows that the card is 95-98% accurate, with a definite and obvious change in colour when the aforementioned drugs are tested. Drink Safe’s one main drawback is that the detector currently only tests for two known substances, GHB and Ketamine, and with media reporting that ecstasy, cocaine and other barbiturates are now commonly found in drink spiking cases those who use the Drink Safe method should be mindful that only these two substances are detected. However, correct me if I’m wrong – but cocaine isn’t cheap, and it would take a rather large dose of ecstasy or cocaine to inebriate someone to the point of passing out, so it’s likely to be quite an expensive method for your average deviant don’t you think?

In light of the situation, more research is needed into this area as to how people can protect themselves from this new threat to the nature of clubbing. For instance, the latest drug that is turning up in the labs from drink spike victims is Midozalam, which is clear and water soluble. These sorts of advances in the drugs that are being used is something that Drink Safe Technology and the Health Department should be watching very closely. Has the government done any research into this? Has the government researched ways that technology such as Drink Safe can be implemented Australia-wide? The answer is a resounding no. Without government funded research, no real figures will exist on the number of actual cases of drink spiking in Australia. And without these studies, we really don’t know how bad the problem is – and judging by government’s track record of late it seems things may get bad before anything is done about it.

These days the technology to test for multiple drugs in one hit is there – it just needs the government research and funding before it will actually happen. While quite a few hotels across Australia have already implemented Drink Safe Test Kits, what about the ones that haven’t? It’s a real shame that a drink can no longer be bought for you at a club without having to be suspicious as to what is in it.

Useful links:

Drink Spike Detector test kits will be available for sale from Amcal & Guardian chemists nationwide from next month, with more outlets to follow.

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