Reducing your risk of drink spiking at Uni events

Spiking has a history of being underreported as some may choose not to report, or are unaware that they were spiked.

Art by Katarina Butler

It was a gruelling, sweaty evening, where the patrons were loud and eyeing me for their nightly fix. I was the only bartender tending this bar, tucked away in the inner west of Sydney and it was about one in the morning. On the far right of the bar, a man sat alone slurring his words and drifting into sleep, so I flagged him to the managers to keep an eye out. I continued preparing drinks, and chatting to patrons but was told to call on them if I saw his condition worsen or if he and his party wanted to order another round.

A couple minutes later, the security guards removed him from the venue.

I found out after my shift they called the ambulance on him after what they suspected was a ketamine overdose, mixed with alcohol.

The unfortunate reality is that people often realise too late they have been spiked and hence navigate their unknown symptoms and find a safe place whilst intoxicated – putting themselves and others in a dangerous situation. Drink spiking is when an unknown substance is placed in a person’s drink without their knowledge, usually additional alcohol, ketamine or gamma-hydroxybutyrate (GHB). Most spiking agents are colourless, odourless, and flavourless, and are done to decrease the alertness and reaction speed of an individual with the intention to steal, and/or to assault physically or sexually. In addition to this, spiking has a history of being underreported as some may choose not to report, or are unaware that they were spiked.

Although this isn’t an exhaustive list, here is a list of suggestions that you can use to help yourself, and your friends stay safe at bars and university events.

Recognise the symptoms:

It is sometimes hard to distinguish between being drunk, and being affected by spiking, so it is important to stay vigilant and detect symptoms early so you can minimise further harm. The most common symptoms include feeling unable to coordinate yourself, feeling unusually sleepy or nauseous, feeling extremely drunk, irrespective of how much you have had to drink, passing out, or feeling like you will, experiencing memory blanks about the previous night, or feeling unsettled and anxious

Before the event:

Asking the society directly for their designated point of contact:

If you are going to a university society event, there are often ‘Sober Soldiers’ who are executives who remain sober throughout the duration of the event. Many of them (although not all), are trained in first aid and responding to assaults on campus, and may identify themselves in high-vis or wear a coloured lanyard.

Have a solid plan to get home:

I highly recommend having a safe way to get home. If you plan on staying out past midnight, evaluate whether getting public transport will be the best way to travel, especially if you are thinking of drinking or taking substances. Try to travel with someone who lives in a similar area to you, as you may feel unwell travelling.

When I plan to go out, I use the code safety feature on Uber, which requires a passcode to ensure you get in the correct Uber. When this is enabled, you provide this to your driver upon entering the vehicle. In addition to this, I try to have some spare money set aside for a taxi in case there are no Ubers available.

Invest in testing equipment/ prevention kits

Drink testing strips (including Test My Drink), detect the presence of GHB and ketamine by inserting a drop of the drink onto a test patch. The patch turns blue in the presence of either drug.

Another preventive measure is to cover your drink with your hand, or use a drink cap (such as NightCapIt).

On another note, if you are planning on taking a drug, invest in test strips such as the Fentanyl test strip (free on the End Overdose website). If you are in a controlled environment, you may be able to afford to test the purity and more detailed tests, however this may not be realistic in a club setting.

Build a support network:

If you have a mutual friend going to the event, it’s a good idea to look out for each other in case you feel unwell. Try to have at least one person of a similar gender to you, as they usually have shared experiences with you and know what to look out for. 

During the event:

Watch the bartender make the drink

Standard mixers have 30ml of a spirit, indicated by the very top of the jiggers bartenders use. If it spills over, they’ve put extra alcohol into your drink, and you can’t calculate your BAC. 

Go to the bar staff/security guards at the venue:

If you feel drunk or that you have been spiked, I highly recommend going to the bar staff as it is their responsibility under the Responsible Service of Alcohol (RSA) to make sure you get home safe. In most cases, they will stay with you until your ride arrives, or decide to call an ambulance if your condition becomes worse. If someone in the venue is making you feel unsafe (or pressuring you), express that to an exec or bartender.

Talk to a trusted adult, and your support network:

They may be able to pick you up or stay with you until you reach safety. Conversely, if someone is making you feel unsafe, your support network may stick with you, so you aren’t alone or in a compromised position.

Evaluate whether you wish to report the incident:

If you do choose to report an incident, taking a test (typically blood or urine) is a strong form of evidence that you have been spiked. Drugs like GHB can be detected in a urine test for up to 12 hours, and ketamine can be detected for up to 14 days. Generally, the earlier the test is taken, the more likely it is to show up in a test. If you have taken this in conjunction with another form of testing (i.e Test My Drink), then you’ll have more of a clue of when/where the spiking took place. 

You can also choose to report it to the police. If the situation took place at a licensed venue, they are likely to find video evidence monitoring yourself, your symptoms, and who you conversed with.

Ultimately, it is your decision whether you report or not.

Although these provide some ways to reduce your risk of spiking at events, it is important to note that most spiking cases are not from drug misuse, but rather from alcohol. By testing the substances, you can keep note of how much you consume, become more aware of your own limits, and feel comfortable at night. Remember, it’s important to stay vigilant, but also to have fun!

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