PEI

'Nobody talks about it': UPEI opens discussion on drink tampering

It's time to talk about drink tampering, say officials at UPEI. The university is hosting a public panel discussion about drink tampering and what to do if you suspect your or your friends' drinks have been drugged on Tuesday, Oct. 4 from 6 to 8 p.m. in the Murphy Student Centre.

Hold on to your drink and cover the top if possible, do not accept drinks from anyone, and use a buddy system

Charlottetown police believe many people who believe they have been drugged have actually had too much alcohol. (iStock)

It's time to talk about drink tampering, say officials at UPEI. The university is hosting a public panel discussion on drink tampering and what to do if you suspect your or your friends' drinks have been drugged on Tuesday, Oct. 4 from 6 to 8 p.m. in the W.A. Murphy Student Centre.

Drink tampering is when a drug is slipped into a drink and causes people to pass out, awaking hours later with no recollection of what happened, and no trace of the drugs remaining in their system. 

It's really shocking to me that in Canada and in P.E.I., where we live in an extremely trusting environment and society, that we have to worry about this.— Barb Campbell, UPEI

"We started to talk about it at the university," said Barb Campbell, director of international relations and an associate professor of nursing at UPEI. 

The number of students reporting they believed they or a friend may have been drugged "was really shocking to us," she said. 

"We think that it probably happens in our small community of Charlottetown every weekend," Campbell said, noting there is no hard evidence to back this up.

'They become confused'

Drugs that are sometimes used to spike drinks include valium, the horse tranquilizer ketamine — known as special k — GHB and rohypnol, also known as roofies, said Campbell. 

There are several different odourless, tasteless drugs that can be slipped into a drink and cause severe intoxication. (istockphoto.com)

"A lot of the stories say that students, in our case, students have a couple of drinks and then become really intoxicated really quickly," shares Campbell. "They become confused and have inability to move."

Very difficult to detect

Cst. Tim Keizer with the Charlottetown Police, a school resource officer at Colonel Gray High School in Charlottetown, will also be part of Tuesday's panel discussion. 

"There's stuff, absolutely, that goes unreported," Keizer said, adding his department has only had one past case where drink tampering was confirmed. 

Nobody talks about it and nobody does anything about it.— Barb Campbell, UPEI

Police do have people reporting they believe they were drugged and "something may have happened to them," but Keizer said it's very difficult to detect afterward. 

Police have even sent victims' hair to be tested for date-rape drugs, an expensive process — but tests came back negative every time, Keizer said. 

Police are not seeing more cases of drink tampering, Keizer said, adding police believe many complainants may have been over-served or inadvertently consumed excessive alcohol, "the oldest drug."

He urges victims who believe they may have been drugged or sexually assaulted to report it to police, so they can get appropriate help. 

'Nobody gets caught'

"It's an insidious thing — nobody is charged, nobody gets caught," said Campbell.  

There are few official reports of date-rape drugs, Campbell believes, because those who are drugged have no memory of the night and usually believe they simply had too much to drink. Another major reason for under-reporting is victim blaming, she said.

'Poor judgements happen' simply from drinking excess alcohol, says Charlottetown Police Cst. Tim Keizer. (CBC)

CBC news investigation last year showed the number of sexual assaults reported at Canadian post-secondary schools is surprisingly low: 700 over the previous five years. Statisticians, law enforcement officials and experts on sexual violence told CBC that it is extremely hard to get a true picture of its prevalence wherever it takes place.

"By the time they realize that they've been drugged, it's too late to have the blood work done, and so they never charge anybody," said Campbell. "Nobody talks about it and nobody does anything about it." 

Cover your drink, keep each other safe

The panel wants to educate students to try to prevent drink tampering: hold on to your drink and cover the top if possible, do not accept drinks from anyone, and use a buddy system when consuming alcohol, said Campbell. 

UPEI has a bystander intervention program, which has trained more than 500 students to help keep one another safe. 

Not gender-specific

QEH emergency room physician Dr. Joanne McGinn will also be part of Tuesday's panel, along with Charlottetown lawyer Gary Demeulenaere and P.E.I. Victim Services Manager Susan Maynard.

"It's not gender-specific, as one would think," Campbell adds, noting she'd heard of both men and women being drugged. 

Drink tampering, for Campbell, is hard to understand.

"It's really shocking to me that in Canada and in P.E.I., where we live in an extremely trusting environment and society, that we have to worry about this," said Campbell.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Sara Fraser

Web Journalist

Sara is a P.E.I. native who graduated from the University of King's College in Halifax. N.S., with a bachelor of journalism (honours) degree. She's worked with CBC Radio and Television since 1988, moving to the CBC P.E.I. web team in 2015, focusing on weekend features. email sara.fraser@cbc.ca

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