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What drugs are used to spike drinks?

“A friend of mine had her drink spiked at a party. When her Mum took her to the hospital to find out what had been put into her drink the nurses said they wouldn’t really be able to tell them. Why couldn’t they tell them and what drugs in drink spiking?

‘Drink spiking’ refers to drugs or alcohol being added to any kind of drink, whether it be alcoholic or non-alcoholic, without the consent of the person consuming it. Those who report being spiked often have very little recollection of what happened. They’ve had a traumatic experience and can be confused about exactly what went down. As a result, they often don’t report the incident fearing they won’t be believed. If and when they finally do decide to make a report it’s often too late to collect vital information, particularly when it comes to scientific testing for the presence of drugs that may have been used.

Unfortunately, even if a person gets tested shortly after the incident, it’s not that easy to find out what drug could have been used. TV shows make it seem like you can put a liquid into a machine and almost immediately be provided all the information about its contents. It would be great if it was that simple but it’s not. First off, testing is an incredibly expensive process and most importantly, in the majority of cases, you’ve got to know what you’re looking for before you test. If testing is conducted, analysts look for a limited number of specific substances typically associated with drink spiking.

There have been many studies looking at this crime and based on the research we have, alcohol appears to be the most likely drug to be used in drink spiking incidents. For many people who believe they’ve been spiked, this is something they find extremely hard to believe. As far as many are concerned, they know what the effects of alcohol feel like and that’s not what happened to them.

There are a number of other drugs that are typically linked to drink spiking, with the one most often discussed being a powerful sleep medication called Rohypnol. That’s actually a brand name, with the drug itself called flunitrazepam. These pills or tablets, often referred to as ‘roofies’, received a lot of negative attention in the 90s, particularly in the US. So much so, that people started talking about being ‘roofied’ when discussing being spiked, particularly in relation to sexual assault. This drug would certainly have the desired effect. That is, it’s amnesic – the person is likely not to remember much after taking it and it could certainly knock someone out, particularly if they’d been drinking alcohol. The truth is, however, that it’s rarely identified in tests conducted on those who believe they’ve been spiked. Other sleeping pills or anti-anxiety medications such as Valium and Xanax are likely to have a similar effect but they’re also tested for and rarely found.

GHB, a drug that’s also amnesic in effect, is also associated with this crime. Gamma hydroxybutyrate comes in liquid form that’s extremely difficult to identify in testing even after a very short time. GHB, however, has a very obvious taste and smell that cannot be disguised easily. It’s unlikely that anybody who’d had this put into their drink would not notice. At the very least it would be salty and at worst, have a very metallic and highly unpleasant taste.

It’s important to note that in confirmed cases, where perpetrators of this crime have been charged, they’ve often been found to use drugs unlikely to be looked for in routine testing. For example, in NSW in the early 2000s, two men were found guilty of spiking the drinks of nine women and three men. They had used Clonazepam (Rivotril) to spike drinks, a drug used to treat epilepsy. If any of the people they’d spiked had come forward for testing, even straight after the crime had occurred, it’s highly unlikely that scientific testing would have identified that particular substance as analysts simply wouldn’t have been looking for it.

Although almost everyone seems to know someone who’s been spiked, this crime is rarely reported and, as a result, we don’t really know as much about it as we should. The most important thing to remember is that if someone believes they’ve been a victim of this crime, regardless of the available evidence, that person has been through a traumatic experience. As a result, they must be treated with respect and dignity. To brush them off or dismiss their claims, or even suggest there must be another explanation for what happened to them, is totally inappropriate.

First published: April 2024

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