Focus on reports of injection spiking detracts from broader safety threats faced by young women, say experts

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The focus on the reported phenomenon of spiking by injection is detracting attention away from broader safety threats faced by young women on nights out, experts have said.

Several UK police forces are investigating possible cases following widespread reports of such incidents, while Home Secretary Priti Patel has ordered an urgent update on the scale of the issue.

However, drugs experts have cast doubt on the breadth of needle spikings due to the logistics involved, and believe more attention needs to be paid to “bigger” issues of both sexual violence and drink spiking.

“It’s really important that we listen to people. We want to encourage people to report these things and so we have to believe every report and thoroughly investigate it,” Fiona Measham, a criminologist and the director of drugs safety charity The Loop, told i.

But, she added: “It’s important to try and work out the relative risk. The much greater risk is being spiked with alcohol.

“Incidents of sexual violence and assault, these are happening more broadly, so I think it’s not helpful to just be focusing on this one particular issue.”

Reasons drugs experts are unconvinced about the likelihood that injection spikings are happening on a large scale range from the time it would take to administer a drug – several seconds – without someone noticing, to the ability of amateurs to target certain injection sites within the realm of a dark, busy nightclub.

Focus on reports of injection spiking detracts from broader safety threats faced by young women, say experts
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Another factor is the difficulty involved in getting hold of rapidly-acting and sedative drugs that are easily injectable.

“The other odd thing is that lots of people are saying this at the same time. Do we think a whole bunch of men have together all gone and bought needles and potent benzodiazepines on the dark web? It’s possible, but it does seem highly unlikely,” said Prof Measham.

Meanwhile, a leading drugs expert – who did not want to be named – said they thought a more likely scenario was “someone going around pricking people with an insulin needle to give them a fright” because they were easier to get hold of.

“It’s not beyond the realms of possibility of someone adjusting an epipen to inject something else. [But even then] it’s just a really aggressive, intrusive, unsubtle way of trying to bring someone under your control,” they added.

However, opinions – in the absence of greater public information on the reality of the situation – are divided. A chief nurse at one of the UK’s largest NHS trusts told i that she did not think it was implausible that those without medical knowledge could carry out injections to spike people.

Focus on reports of injection spiking detracts from broader safety threats faced by young women, say experts
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Despite the ambiguity over the frequency of incidents involving needles, police have expressed concern over spikings and are working to establish the scale of offending.

On Friday, the National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) revealed there had been 140 confirmed reports to forces in September and October of drink spiking, and 24 reports involving injections. The reports are from both men and women, though the majority are young women.

Nottinghamshire police have so far arrested three people in connection with its investigation into spiking incidents – two teenage men on suspicion of conspiracy to administer poison and a 20-year-old man on suspicion of class A and B and causing or administering a poison or noxious substance.

Elsewhere, a 35-year-old man was arrested by Lincolnshire Police on Friday in connection with an attempted drink-spiking at a Lincoln nightclub.

Prof Measham stressed the importance of taking each report of injection spiking seriously, including by ensuring victims had access to drugs test, because “without the evidence, we have no idea what’s happening or the extent of it.” She added there was a “bigger picture” of issues facing young people.

“Women are feeling unsafe, there’s predatory behaviour by men, victims are told to moderate their behaviour in various ways,” she said.

“There are very practical things we can do to address the greater risks. Nightclubs can step up to that, universities can do more and police can do more. We should be thinking about having dedicated welfare staff [in clubs] to make sure that if people feel they’re in some sort of danger they’re listened to, their concerns are taken seriously.”

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