Last autumn, reports of women being spiked with needles in clubs or at parties began to circulate. But months on, no confirmed cases have been found. So what happened?
“So we all went to my flat, there must’ve been, I think, maybe like 40, 50 people there, roughly. And most of the people who were there were people that I knew and people with my accommodation.”Bekah McInally
This is Bekah McInally.
“.However, there were some people that, I just assumed my flatmates will know them or all of them or the boys from the football team will know them because at that point we’d only been living there for a month, so I couldn’t really be expected to know everyone.”Bekah McInally
Back in October of last year, Bekah had just started her first term at university. She was living in halls – her first time living alone – and she decided to throw a party at her flat to celebrate her 18th birthday.
“I remember everyone singing happy birthday exactly at 12 o’clock, which was so cute. The last thing I remember, everyone was just in the basement and I cannot remember a single thing after that.”Bekah McInally
Bekah doesn’t remember anything that happened after midnight. She spent all night feeling violently ill, dizzy and disoriented.
She also had one more unusual symptom.
“I was just fixing my pyjamas or something, I realised like I had a lump and it was on the side of my leg… my friends were like, Bekah maybe go and look at it closer, and we did, and we realised there was a pinprick, just a wee tiny red mark.”Bekah McInally
Bekah began to worry that she had been spiked – and not because someone had slipped something in her drink. She was worried that she had been injected with a drug.
Think back to autumn of last year and you might remember that stories of people being spiked by injection, mostly women, were picked up by the press.
There was a sense that a new threat was emerging.
Some people even called it a new epidemic.
And so when Bekah thought something similar might have happened to her, she called the NHS for advice… but they weren’t able to provide her with any answers.
“They basically just said they couldn’t do anything about it, which I was obviously completely disheartened by. Because they said it was the police that deal with it rather than NHS.”Bekah McInally
When she went to the police, she was told that a drugs test would take a year to come back – and she didn’t want that hanging over her.
So, fearing that she had been spiked, and with no way of getting confirmation, Bekah posted on Twitter. She wanted to raise awareness about what happened to her.
And her post was one of many.
Around that time, hundreds of women like Bekah were reporting similar symptoms – bruises, puncture wounds and memory loss – after nights out.
But something didn’t quite add up. Both hospitals and the police weren’t able to verify these reports. Experts were baffled too.
Here’s Adam Waugh, he’s from The Loop, an organisation that specialises in drug safety.
“I think there could be odd occasions where injections spikings happening and I wouldn’t want to ever say it’s impossible or completely rule it out, but I think that administering a drug via a needle, injecting someone in their muscle is not necessarily an easy process.”Adam Waugh
There are a few drugs you could actually use to spike someone with a needle.
Ketamine is one, but you’d need a lot of it – 100 to 200 milligrams.
That means you’d have to inject it slowly to get it all into the body. Or you’d have to have quite a fat needle – so it would really hurt. Either method would make it difficult to do at a busy nightclub or house party
Other common spiking drugs can be potent at smaller doses, meaning they can be administered quickly, with a thin needle.
But in order to inject someone with those, the person administering the drug would have to have access to a liquid version of the drug, and a syringe, and they’d have to know just how much to administer.
Too much, and you’d be seeing far more people in hospital with overdoses.
In other words, the person administering the drug would have to be a trained criminal.
When Bekah heard Adam Waugh’s advice she was frustrated by the lack of options for getting tested so that she could know for sure what happened to her but was ultimately comforted by what he said.
“I feel like if I had seen it beforehand, I don’t know, I feel as if I’d be a lot less scared but I understand there’s a lot of questions around how can this happen to so many people because obviously, that’s an expert speaking and there are so many people coming out saying it’s happened to them. So I understand there’s a lot of disconnect around it. But I think if I’d heard something like that at the time I would have felt a lot safer, about it. And I would’ve been less scared about going out in Edinburgh for example.”Bekah McInally
None of this is to say that Bekah’s story isn’t true – this is a complicated issue.
Experts like Adam Waugh are clear that they don’t want to rule out the possibility of individual cases.
But, a country-wide epidemic of needle spiking, as it was reported, is not what took place last autumn. Even now, six months after reports first emerged, the police have had over 1,300 reports of suspected injection spiking, but none have been confirmed.
All of which begs the question, what actually happened?
It’s easy to forget what a difficult moment October of 2021 was. Students like Bekah were going out for the first time – sometimes ever – after two years of intermittent lockdowns. Parties and nightclubs were already intimidating spaces.
Pandemic anxiety was high and, for women in particular, there were other fears at play too.
Just a month before Bekah’s birthday, a serving police officer was sentenced for the kidnap, rape and murder of Sarah Everard. Sarah’s was one of a handful of brutal murders of young women during the pandemic.
Women were experiencing legitimate fear.
We also know that even drink spiking is underreported, and poorly understood. Like Bekah, victims will go back and forth between the police, the venue and hospitals – and often they won’t get answers about what happened to them.
The holes in this porous system allow legitimate fear about spiking to breed – and for new fears to emerge.
The advice on spiking is not always clear.
If you think you or a friend has been spiked and are feeling unwell, call 999 for an ambulance, especially if there is loss of consciousness, breathing difficulties, or impaired sight. You can call 111 for any other health concerns.
If you can, you should also make sure that you alert the venue and report it to the police.
Today’s story was written by Patricia Clarke and produced by Gary Marshall.
Spiking: An injection of fear
The “epidemic” of spiking with needles in clubs and at parties in autumn 2021 revealed something important about women’s lives in Britain. But it wasn’t what we thought