Injection spiking: How likely is it?

By Lindsay Brown and Imran Rahman-Jones
Newsbeat reporters

Image source, Getty Images

Recent stories of women being spiked by injection on nights out have caused worry among students and politicians.

Several UK police forces are investigating possible cases, and the home secretary has asked for an urgent update on the scale of the problem.

Experts say it's unlikely to be happening on a wide scale, and that drink spiking is a more pressing issue.

Medics we've spoken to are divided on how easy it would be to inject someone with drugs without them noticing.

How easy is needle spiking?

Prof Adam Winstock from the Global Drugs Survey says it would be difficult to inject someone with drugs in a night out situation.

"Needles have to be inserted with a level of care - and that's when you've got the patient sitting in front of you with skin and no clothes," he tells Newsbeat.

"The idea these things can be randomly given through clothes in a club is just not that likely."

Prof Winstock, who is a trained consultant psychiatrist, says it would also be "difficult" to keep a needle in someone's skin long enough to get all of the substance in.

"Normally you'd have to inject several millilitres, that's half a teaspoon full of drug - into somebody. That hurts and people notice."

He says alcohol is "by far and away" the most-used drug in spiking, when people slip extra - or stronger - alcohol into someone's drink.

But some medical professionals say it could be possible to inject someone with drugs without them noticing.

Some needles are so thin you can "barely feel [them] going in", says Dr Shirin Lakhani, a cosmetic doctor specialising in women's health.

"[And] if someone's had a drink or so, they might be less inclined to feel the scratch of a needle."

Dr Lakhani - who has previously worked as a GP and anaesthetist - points out that people without medical expertise can learnt to inject, for example diabetic people inject their own insulin.

"If someone has access to needles and syringes and can get into a club, I don't see why they wouldn't be able to impact or hurt somebody in that way," adds Dr Veena Babu, a London-based GP.

Dr Babu says she can appreciate that opinion might be split on this, but "if there are women reporting this has happened, or they've felt dizzy and they've collapsed and noticed bruise marks, we have to respect what they're saying".

She adds that injections under the skin in the thigh or upper arm might be harder to feel, and the effects could take longer to kick in.

Is spiking on the rise?

Figures obtained by the BBC in 2019 revealed a rise in recorded cases of drink-spiking, with more than 2,600 reported incidents in England and Wales since 2015.

But campaigners say those stats don't show the full scale of the problem because many people don't report what's happened to police or visit the doctor quickly enough to do a blood test.

"We know that most spiking isn't injecting - most spiking is with alcohol, ketamine or GBL [a sedative]," criminologist Prof Fiona Measham tells Newsbeat.

Prof Measham teaches at Liverpool University and says a lot of her students are anxious about the recent reports of needle spiking, which first began to surface in Nottingham.

Other police forces across the UK have confirmed they are investigating similar cases.

Image source, Fiona Measham
Image caption,
Prof Fiona Measham's organisation The Loop has also carried out drug testing at festivals

Prof Measham says spiking might be happening more at this time of year because universities are in their first few weeks of term - when many people who turned 18 over lockdown are going out for the first time.

Police are also concerned over drink spiking at house parties.

"We're not sure about the scale of spiking but it's important to listen to the anxieties, the anger and to be thinking more generally how we can improve safety," adds Prof Measham, who is also director of drug safety organisation The Loop.

How to help a friend who you think has been spiked

Drinkaware has some advice on what to do if you think a friend you're out with has been spiked:

  • Stay with them and keep talking to them
  • Call an ambulance if their condition deteriorates
  • Don't let them go home on their own
  • Don't let them leave the venue with someone you don't know or trust
  • Try to prevent them drinking more alcohol as this could lead to more serious problems
  • Encourage them to get urine and blood tests within 72 hours

What's being done to keep people safe?

Prof Measham's students are among those angry at nightclubs for not having more safety measures in place.

"Some clubs and bar staff haven't been trained in relation to reporting of violence and sexual violence," she says, adding that the "desperate shortage" of security staff isn't helping.

She says clubs need to be better trained in how to deal with people who think they've been spiked or attacked.

The group that represents clubs in the UK says they're doing more staff training and looking at things like drinks covers and testing kits.

"We are working extremely hard with police and people that have experienced this," says Michael Kill from the Night Time Industries Association.

He adds that they want to "raise awareness, communicate, carry out searches, extend our security measures - to ensure that we're keeping people safe at night."

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