Here's What We Know About Reports of Women Being 'Spiked With Needles' in UK Clubs

As police forces investigate reports of women being victims of "spiking injections" and the Home Secretary requests an urgent update, what is actually going on?
October 20, 2021, 1:05pm
GettyImages-97084057
Photo: Stock image

What have women said?

Women in a number of UK cities, including Edinburgh and Nottingham, have posted text and images detailing experiences in which they believe they were spiked by “needles”. Several of the accounts include stories of blacking out and waking up the next morning to find a puncture wound on their arm, leg or lower back.

One post on Twitter from an account that has since been made private showed what looks like a swollen puncture wound on a woman’s elbow, with text reading: “The injection left me unable to walk without the help of someone else and I could barely string a sentence together, thankfully I was not alone and had a friend with me. Posting for awareness as I stupidly didn’t think this would ever happen to me and that it wasn’t common enough to be happening in Dundee.”

Advertisement

Zara Owen, a student in Nottingham, posted on Facebook about blacking out shortly after arriving at a nightclub on the 10th of October. She says that the next thing she remembers is waking up in her bed with pain in her leg before discovering what looked like a pin prick. 

She told VICE World News that she has visited both her local hospital and GP surgery to get her blood work checked, but has been sent back and forth between the two. The day after the incident, she waited eight hours in A&E before having to leave, meaning she was never asked to provide a urine or blood sample. 

These posts, as well as others talking about the alleged “spiking injections”, have gone viral, with many calling for better safety measures from nightclubs. Alex Mills, a female student at Nottingham Trent University, is raising awareness locally about “Girls Night In”, a national boycott of nightclubs, set to take place in late October in several cities across the country. She said: “It’s awful. I missed clubbing so much as I was in first year when COVID happened. I’ve only been out a few times since everything’s reopened and now I’m scared to go out.”

More than 120,000 people have signed a petition calling for clubs to be legally required to search guests on entry more thoroughly for weapons and drugs. 

What do experts think?

As the specific allegations around needle use and injections have not yet been verified, experts are urging caution. Some widely-shared tweets also appear to be conflating a recent, verified spate in spiking with the still unverified claims that a needle may have been used in certain instances. 

Experts told VICE World News that a number of criteria would need to be met for such injections to meet the goal of the spiker – and why it is unlikely this is a widespread phenomenon.

Advertisement

Guy Jones, senior scientist at drugs charity the Loop, said: “Injecting adds a big ‘what?’ factor to the whole thing because few drugs would be able to be injected like this. Where drugs can be injected non-intravenously, there are specific injection sites that do not work well. The back is one of these unsuitable sites due to the low fat-muscle content, and high concentration of pain receptors.”

He added: “GHB would be a poor candidate for injection due to the large amount of fluid needed, and therefore the thick, painful needle. This means that the substance involved would be something that would be highly detectable for several days in a toxicology screening such as a benzodiazepine.”

David Caldicott, an emergency medicine consultant and founder of drug testing project WEDINOS, said: “There are a couple of things that are disconcerting about this story. The technical and medical knowledge required to perform this would make this deeply improbable. It is at the level of a state sponsored actor incapacitating a dissident, like the Novichok incident. The idea that a clubber would do this to a fellow clubber seems highly unlikely to me.

“It’s really hard to stick a needle in someone without them noticing, especially if you have to keep the needle in there for long enough, maybe 20 seconds, to inject enough drugs to cause this. If you were malicious there would be half a dozen much easier other ways to spike someone.”

Advertisement

Caldicott added: “It’s very important that when a young person believes something has happened that has deprived them of their cognitive liberty to take them seriously and investigate it to the hilt. This has not been adequately investigated.

“It’s entirely possible that this is some stupid fad of sticking needles into people, but the association between sticking needles into people and people being intoxicated and collapsing seems far-fetched at the moment, it’s very difficult to explain.”

A critical care nurse who is familiar with intramuscular injecting and wished to remain anonymous fearing a backlash also shared that the likelihood of being able to administer a jab of ketamine, benzo or haloperidol (probably the only drugs likely candidates for this) is virtually zero because the needle size you need to quickly administer the liquid the drug is suspended in is a size that would hurt a lot when administered. 

Helena Conibear, CEO of the Alcohol Education Trust, who had not heard about spiking injections before last week, said that the social media claims and reports needed to be scrutinised. “What we’ve found over 11 years of our existence is that there is a rise in reporting to us [about drink spiking] during freshers’ week in the autumn. Everyone presumes it takes place in bars and clubs, but half is at private parties and unregulated spaces because there’s less likelihood to have CCTV.”

Advertisement

She added that young people shouldn’t be frightened of going out and enjoying themselves, but that awareness around the actual threats is important. “Everyone presumes stranger danger but actually it could be a wider friendship group,” she warned. “You have to be vigilant all the time. It happens a lot to young men as well as young women. The mantra is any drink, any place, to anybody.”

Adam Winstock, director of the Global Drug Survey, said: “There are very few easily accessible drugs / medicines that could be given intramuscular in a small enough volume that people would not notice and the effects would take some time to come on. What you see in the movies is not reality. People need to keep their drinks close to them, avoid taking them from strangers and keep an eye out for their mates.”

What have the police said?

Nottinghamshire Police have arrested a 20-year-old on suspicion of possession of class A and class B and “causing or administering any poison or noxious thing with intent to injure, aggrieve and annoy”, who has since been released on bail. 

The force said officers were investigating three reports of women being injected with needles in the last two weeks, with a dedicated team carrying out CCTV enquiries. Police Scotland have also started enquiries into an alleged spiking by injection incident earlier this month.  

Advertisement

Superintendent Kathryn Craner of Nottinghamshire Police told VICE World News: “We are currently investigating reports of individuals suspecting that their drinks have been spiked. Linked to this a small number of victims have said that they may have felt a scratching sensation as if someone may have spiked them physically. Consequently, we are actively investigating all these reports.”

She added: “We do not believe that these are targeted incidents; they are distinctly different from anything we have seen previously as victims have disclosed a physical scratch type sensation before feeling very unwell. This is subtly different from feelings of intoxication through alcohol according to some victims.”

In Scotland, the Daily Record reported claims about spiking in Stirling, Edinburgh, Dundee and Glasgow. Police Scotland confirmed they had begun enquiries after an alleged spiking by injection incident was reported to them at The Liquid Room on the 9th of October.

What are politicians saying?

This morning, the Commons Home Affairs Select Committee chairYvette Cooper told the committee that she had received a report today about “possible injection spiking” from a victim, describing them as “vile crimes.”

The National Police Chiefs’ Council spokeswoman for rape and adult sexual offences, Avon and Somerset Police Chief Constable Sarah Crew, was also at the meeting. She said “police forces are absolutely taking it seriously,” but that “in terms of the injection spiking, I only became aware of that this morning.”

A Home Office source told Politico that Home Secretary Priti Patel has requested an urgent update from the police following the recent spate of spiking. Nadia Whittome, MP for Nottingham East, told VICE World News: "I’m horrified by suspected spiking of women in nightclubs, both in Nottingham and other parts of the country. Reports of spiking by injection are especially distressing, given the added risks of infection and injury. Women must be able to go out at night without being drugged or fearing for their safety.” 

Whittome has written to the local Police & Crime Commissioner to request an urgent update on this situation and is in discussion with the Nottingham Women’s Centre and some of the women affected. “We will be meeting to organise a list of key demands around women’s safety,” she said.