'Predatory' drugs in bars pose problems, police warn
George Street incidents throw spotlight on issue; clubgoers advised to be wary
As more stories come to light of bar patrons being drugged on George Street, police are urging awareness to combat crimes facilitated by what they call "predatory drugs."
Those drugs are used in cases of spiking drinks for sexual assaults, according to Sgt. Steve Conohan, the RCMP's co-ordinator of drugs and organized crime awareness.
The main three drugs include:
- Gamma hydroxybutyrate, or GHB, also known as liquid ecstacy;
- Rohypnol, more commonly known as roofies.
While they're different types of drugs, Conohan says there's an important similarity.
"All of these drugs share the same common side effects and have one thing in common: they all cause short term memory loss," he said.
Conohan says the drugs most often being used locally are GHB and Ketamine, because they're also used recreationally.
GHB is a cheap, colourless, and tasteless drug. Recipes for the drug are available online, and the ingredients can all be purchased at hardware stores. A single dose, which is equivalent to the impact of about 15 beers at once, sells for about $10.
And it's not just showing up in drinks — GHB is even available to buy directly on the dance floor.
"The gentleman had a syringe, he had a bottle of GHB, and he simply was asking people, patrons of the club, 'How many millilitres do you want to buy?' They gave him the response, he drew that up into a syringe, and then dispensed it in a glass," Conohan said.
Conohan says police have made significant seizures of these "predatory" drugs.
In the last year and a half, the RCMP locally have seized three one-litre bottles of GHB.
"While that might not seem significant to some people, when you consider the dosage is usually around five mililitres — or one bottle cap from a water bottle — three litres is considerable," he said.
"It's a lot of dosages."
Police have also made five one-pound seizures of Ketamine, a surgical anesthetic typically used for veterinary purposes.
That, says Conohan, is also a considerable amount. Each dose of Ketamine is just under one gram.
Conohan says the RCMP doesn't see much local production because the drugs are already coming in from other provinces, including Ontario, Quebec, and British Columbia.
Roofies aren't as common in Newfoundland, he notes, because the company has started putting built-in safeguards in place.
If a Rohypnol capsule is dropped into a drink, it will turn bluish-purple, and bits of the pill will float to the top.
But there are generic versions of the drug that are used to treat narcolepsy that don't offer the same security measures.
Memory loss, disorientation
Within minutes of being drugged, a victim can start to feel sick or disoriented.
That is followed by a period of memory loss, making victims susceptible to sexual assaults. That blackout state can last between six to nine hours.
Tips to stay safe
RCMP Sgt. Steve Conohan says you should put some safety rules in place when going out for a night on the town:
- Go out with a crowd: Make sure it's a group of friends that you know and trust.
- If you buy a drink, don't leave it unattended: If you do happen to walk away from your drink, it's best to throw it out and buy a new one.
- Establish a meeting spot: If you do happen to get split up from your friends at the bar or while on the dance floor, know where you can meet up with them before heading home for the night.
"They wake up, they're disrobed, they're in a place [where] they don't know how they got there. They have a feeling something happened in between, but they can't say definitively," Conohan said.
Victims are encouraged to get a blood test done as quickly as possible.
But Conohan says they can sometimes feel weak and sick when the drug begins to wear off, meaning reports — and blood tests — rarely happen.
"While people negotiate with themselves whether or not they're going to come forward, the whole time they're doing that negotiation process, the drug is making its way through the system," he said. "So, time is of the essence."
The Royal Newfoundland Constabulary in St. John's says they haven't received many reports. The most recent drug-induced sexual assault happened in October. No one has been arrested in that case.
Meanwhile, of the 1,500 calls the Newfoundland and Labrador Sexual Assault Crisis and Prevention Centre receives each year, 150 of them are reports of drug-induced rape.
Many stories circulating
While the reported cases to police may be few, bartenders hear about these stories all the time.
"Maureen" serves drinks at an establishment on George Street. Her identity has been concealed to protect her job.
She says the use of predatory drugs in the downtown area is a sad reality.
"[When I was younger,] Mom knew I had the fake ID. [She] knew I was going downtown [and] she made it clear: 'Do not let your drink out of your sight.' I said, 'Mom, it's Newfoundland, it doesn't happen here.' But it does," she said.
"It was a wake-up call working [at a George Street bar] because you see it, and you hear about it."
Maureen says she hears about it more than she'd like.
"You hear people talk about, 'Oh my friend was talking to this guy, and he was bragging about this girl that was drugged up, slipped something into her drink,'" she said.
Sara Tilley knows this story all too well.
She was recently drugged while at a fundraising event at a bar on George Street. Luckily, she had friends nearby who took care of her and brought her to their place to be checked over by paramedics.
Tilley spoke out publicly about her experience on Jan. 15.
"Once my friend talked to the sexual assault crisis centre, they were told it's not enough to watch your drinks on the table — you have to watch the bartenders, because they can be paid to drug drinks."
But this was not an isolated incident — nor a new phenomenon.
Lisa Pike says she's had a similar experience before.
"I haven't had it happen to me since I was in my early teens," she said. "All I remember is waking up in my girlfriend's apartment; she took me home."
Maureen says bar patrons need to keep their wits about them and make smart choices when heading out for a night of partying.
"I can't vouch for all bartenders or all bars — I mean, pick the bar you go into. If it's a really sketchy bar, [or] if it's an after-hours bar, they're operating illegally anyways," she said.
"Use your common sense. If you lay your drink down, don't go back to it...
"Once you leave that bar, you're on your own. When you're inside the bar, the security staff is responsible for you, but once you're outside the doors, there's nothing we can do."