We need to talk about… Spiking

nightclub spikingWas the recent spate of scare stories around needle spiking driven by something other than concern for potential victims, asks Nick Goldstein.

Nick Goldstein is a service user
Nick Goldstein

Spiking is a polysemous word, meaning it has several definitions ranging from impaling with something pointed, to a rapid rise in something, to being ‘shot in the ass’ – the last one is from the Urban Dictionary. The definition of ‘spiked’ that concerns us, though, is when someone puts alcohol or drugs into another person’s body without their consent. Spiking has been around as long as people have been getting intoxicated. It’s an old and far too common story that occurs for a variety reasons, ranging from revenge to a poor sense of humour to much darker motivations – spiking people or pets really isn’t funny or cool.

In fact, spiking someone for any reason at all is immoral and a form of chemical assault. If people want to make the hopefully informed decision to get high that’s fine with me (law enforcement may view it differently), but forcibly altering someone’s consciousness is always morally wrong. The darkest variety is to incapacitate someone as a prelude to an assault, often of a sexual nature, and specifically the recently much-reported alleged use of a syringe to deliver the spiking.

The first alleged cases date back to 2019 and quickly became ‘a new phenomenon’ according to Jason Harwin, the National Police Chiefs Council’s drugs lead. Incredibly the police received 1,382 reports of spiking with a needle in under six months – that’s compared with 1,903 total spikings for the entire preceding year. Universities, nightclubs, bars, student unions et al warned anyone with a pulse, and the BBC carried a special warning on the news. So, a huge new danger stalks the land, right? 

I’m not so sure, and I say that with some expertise on this subject. I might not have spiked anyone else, but I’ve spiked myself tens of thousands of times over decades. I wouldn’t claim to be an expert on astrophysics or Balinese shadow puppetry, but I am an expert in the baleful art of injecting drugs and my initial problems with spiking with a needle are technical.

Once one gets beyond the emotions and headlines and examines the idea of needle spiking with cold logic it starts to fall to pieces. Let’s take a look at the technical aspects. Firstly, you have to acquire a suitable drug. No point spiking someone with speed or LSD, you’re looking for a sedative or soporific, and even with the internet you need to be able to access illegal drugs. You also need to be sure the drug can be prepared for injection and know how to prepare it without losing the active drug in a pool of gunk that will just set and jam your works. Then you need to access an appropriate syringe – I’d imagine a smaller works would be best, maybe a .5? Certainly anything above a 1ml would be useless. Do you know where to access works? Because most people don’t.

Ok, we’ve got our drugs and works together. So, when are you going to prepare the drugs for use? I can’t see prepping in a club or pub toilet being a good idea, but if you prep it at home how do you get the loaded syringe into a venue? You really don’t want to carry a loaded syringe in your pocket because of the chance of accidentally depressing the plunger leaving you with an empty syringe and a wet pocket, but if you put the loaded syringe in a protective container it becomes more likely to be found by bouncers.

Anyway, let’s say we’ve managed to get a loaded works into a venue and I spot someone I want to spike. How is this done without anyone noticing, bearing in mind you have to stick someone with the syringe and then depress the plunger? It is possible to use one hand for both tasks, but it’s not easy. So we’ve managed to inject someone in an often poorly lit and packed room. What then? At best you’ve given an IM shot, which means it will come on slowly over 15-20 minutes. Do you follow the victim hoping she’ll somehow fall into your clutches… really?

Technically this makes no sense. Maybe I’m just being cynical, but in this case something more than my cynicism appears to be happening because there have been precisely zero convictions for this offence. In fact, not one person has even been charged. To be clear, I’m not claiming spiking with a needle never happens. It’s a large planet with a lot of people out there so most things will happen, but that doesn’t mean there’s some sort of epidemic of crazed perverts lurking in the bushes armed with a syringe and ill intent.

I believe what we are seeing in the media response to this subject is a good old-fashioned drug scare story. We’re appear to be in crack baby/marijuana fiends territory, and I expect in time needle spiking will be debunked too. The problems come when the media attention turns the scare story into political action, and with stretched budgets the last thing any of us needs is for money to be pissed away on a myth. Coda, this shouldn’t need saying again, but spiking with or without a needle is always wrong no matter the reason.    

Nick Goldstein is a service user

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