It was 2019 and Sarah Smith was on a Friday night out in Glasgow when she started to feel strange. The 21-year-old was with her friends, including her twin brother. Having joined the group straight from work she wasn’t drunk – but her memory of what happened next is blank.
Sarah believes she was spiked and has pieced together the story based on her friend’s accounts; she could barely sit up straight and her eyes rolled back in her head. The club’s bouncers said she had to be moved, particularly out of view of the growing queue, and tried to lift her.
Unhappy about the way she was being treated by staff, her friends took her outside themselves. “I couldn’t walk any further and they had to put me down – I was pretty much unconscious on the street,” she recalls. “Some girls in the queue were saying ‘is she going to be alright?’”.
An ambulance was phoned and Sarah was taken to the local accident and emergency where she was released the next morning.
Watch: Nightclub boycott to highlight drink spiking
Reports of spiking – both in drinks and by injection – have boomed in the last month. The National Police Chief’s Council (NPCC) said that across September and October in the UK there have been 198 confirmed reports of drink spiking and 24 reports of spiking by injection.
The NPCC said this was at both licensed venues and private parties: some reports have suggested that drink spiking at house parties are a “big concern” for police, particularly as they do not have CCTV or security staff present.
This boom in reports has led to calls for a boycott of nightclubs in some cities, led by grass roots organisation Girls Night In that wants women to not go to clubs for one night in October in a bid to force the venues to make the spaces safer.
About three quarters of spiking victims are women, says the BBC, although men are at risk too.
Laura, 25, was spiked six years ago on a night out in Clapham, south London. She was with her university friend and his flatmates who she hadn’t met before. Unlike Sarah, she does think she knows when it happened; one of the flatmates offered her some of his WKD drink as her glass was empty.
“He just poured it into my glass, I didn’t give it much thought so I drank that and everything went really weird really quickly,” she says. “But I never saw him drink from that bottle.
“I [felt] sick so I decided to leave, I went to the cloakroom to grab my coat and by the time I got outside I couldn’t walk and I couldn’t talk, my tongue just wasn’t working.” Laura started crying and sat on the pavement and a group of women called an ambulance.
Drink Aware says spiking can include any number of substances being added to drinks: alcohol, prescription drugs (like sedatives or opiates) or illegal drugs.
It says rohypnol and gamma hydroxybutyrate (GHB) are the most commonly known “date-rape” drugs, they normally take effect within 15 to 30 minutes but also leave the body within a short amount of time making them hard to detect.
Drink spiking can happen to any type of drink, whether alcoholic or not. The effects of spiking can vary but include loss of balance, vomiting, unconsciousness and visual problems.
Both women say the spiking incident changed how they behave when they are out. Laura says she didn’t go out for a while afterwards, and even then would only drink bottled drinks that she knew no-one could interfere with. “I was paranoid for a long time,” she says.
Even now she finds herself watching drinks. “The other night I saw two men get a pint and leave it at the bar – I ended up spending the next 10 minutes just watching those drinks.”
Sarah, meanwhile, struggles to go out without her brother as he has become an “emotional support blanket”.
Although spiking is illegal in the UK and the maximum sentence if found guilty is 10 years in prison, only Sarah reported what happened to the police (Laura says a lukewarm response from friends made her feel like “no-one was bothered”).
Even after reporting no further action was taken in Sarah’s case, one reason was that no drug testing was done at the hospital for evidence.
“I really struggled with the idea of reporting it [as] I was so afraid that people wouldn't believe that that had actually happened, it felt quite a shameful thing that I wasn't protecting myself well enough,” says Sarah.
Looking to the future, some petitions are calling for a change in the law to require full door searches to gain entry to clubs, but others think this will only target marginalised people and there needs to be greater education and prevention training.
For Sarah she says the only way women will start to feel safe is “radical institutional change” rather than requiring victims to take further measures to protect themselves.
“If someone has that intention to spike then no matter how they will find a way through these safety measures that women are being hounded to do.
“Women could do everything that society and safety experts say is right but they could still end up spiked,” she says.
Watch: Mother warns of drink spiking danger after posting video of daughter, 18, unable to walk or talk