24 February 2012

Drink spiking

Going to paint the town red tonight? Think twice about accepting that free drink – it may be spiked.

New dad, Travis Van Niekerk is fighting for his life after falling victim to a suspected spiked drink at a night club. Doctors found a sedative in his blood which caused him to have several fits.

More cases of drink spiking are being reported in the media. Drinks are not only spiked at pubs and clubs, but also at private house and school parties.

“Victims are often between the ages of 16 and 24 and although males are also at risk the majority of victims are females,” says Mike Bolhuis, specialist investigator into violent and economic crimes.

Why do people spike drinks, what danger does this hold for you, and how can you protect yourself?

The basics
A drink is spiked when a mind-altering substance such as alcohol or drugs have been added to a person’s drink without their knowledge. Any drink can be spiked, including alcoholic beverages, coffee, tea, juice, cooldrink and even water. Spiking a drink is illegal and potentially life-threatening to the person who drinks it.

“The spiking of drinks has escalated during the past couple of years in every town at house parties, school functions, night clubs, all types of functions,” says Bolhuis.

People spike drinks for a number of reasons: the most common motivations include wanting to sexually assault, rape or rob the person, wanting to see the effect it will have on the person, wanting to play a practical joke or wanting to liven up a party.

Three categories of spiking
According to Bolhuis there are three categories of spiking. Category one involves an individual or group who wants to experiment with alcohol and drugs. This is normally done at a house party without any supervision and they are usually uninformed about the effects it will have.

Category two is the drug or date rapist. The spiker targets a specific girl and tries to render her unconscious in order to take sexual advantage of her. In most cases the victim knows the perpetrator. This spiker usually has knowledge about drugs and their effects – unlike the victim.

Category three is by far the most dangerous - the serial or professional spiker. “He is often very acceptable and nice-looking. He will identify a stranger as a target, profile the victim and gain her trust. He is usually a loner and knows exactly what substances to give and doesn’t take any chances on getting caught”, says Bolhuis.

The drugs
Alcohol is most commonly used. It is used either by adding it to a non-alcoholic drink or by adding unrequested extra amounts to an alcoholic drink.

According to information supplied by The South African Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (Sanca) the most common prescription drugs used are benzodiazepines, barbiturates, muscle relaxants and hypnotics such as Serapax, Valium and Rohypnol.

Illegal drugs such as Ecstacy, LSD, GHB, heroin, cocaine and Ketamine are also known to be used.

Warning signs
Drugs used to spike drinks cannot be seen, smelt or tasted. If your drink has been spiked, symptoms will depend on which drug was used, your body shape and size, age and how much alcohol, if any, you drank. Common symptoms include:

  • Dizziness and difficulty walking
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Tiredness and fatigue
  • Slurred speech
  • Blurred vision
  • Feeling drunk after having a small amount of alcohol
  • Waking up feeling uncomfortable and disorientated with memory blanks the next morning

What to do if your drink has been spiked
If you start feeling drunk after having a small amount of alcohol and experience the symptoms mentioned above, tell someone you trust immediately. Get to a safe place and only go with someone you know.

If you are experiencing symptoms such as vomiting, drowsiness and hallucinations, get to a hospital immediately. Inform the medical staff that you think your drink had been spiked and report it to the police. Get tested as soon as possible as most drugs leave your system within 12 to 72 hours.

According to Bolhuis, 80% of victims don’t report cases. Victims often feel ashamed and guilty. They don’t have any faith in the justice system and fear that the case could drag out for years and eventually go nowhere. They fear retaliation as in most cases the perpetrators are known. Victims also fear HIV and pregnancy and deal with those issues immediately.

“It is important to report these cases within 48 hours while evidence is still fresh,” says Bolhuis.

Spiked drink or just excessive drinking?
A 12-month study on 75 patients (mostly women) who told doctors their drinks had been spiked was done in the UK earlier this year. The results published in the Emergency Medical Journal Online showed that most patients tested negative for drugs most commonly used for spiking and that the symptoms experienced were more likely a result of excessive alcohol consumption.

According to the National Drug Master Plan alcohol is the primary drug of abuse in South Africa. An average of 7.5% of the population engage in risk drinking during the week and an average of 31.5% engage in binge drinking during weekends.

While drink spiking is a real threat, people are abusing alcohol and experimenting with drugs and in some cases have used drink spiking as an excuse for bad behaviour, embarrassment and excessive substance abuse.

Lower your risk
You can prevent your drink from being spiked by following these guidelines:

  • Buy your own drinks
  • Don’t drink anything you did not open or see being opened or poured
  • Never accept a drink from a stranger
  • Keep an eye on your friend’s drinks
  • Don’t leave your drink unattended
  • Don’t share, swap or drink leftover drinks
  • Try to drink from a bottle when possible as it is more difficult to spike a drink in a bottle
  • Keep your drink in your hand and hold your thumb over the opening if you are drinking from a bottle


(Leandra Engelbrecht, Health24, updated February 2012)

- Drink Spiking,
- Drink Spiking,
- Drink safe technology,
- Drug spiking: The Roofie Foundation,
- A study of patients presenting to an emergency department having had a “spiked drink”,
- The South African council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (Sanca),
- The National Drug Master Plan,
- Mike Bolhuis, Specialist investigators into violent and economic crimes for more information contact 082 447 6116


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