The British Needle-Spiking Panicfebruary 6 zodiac
The British Needle-Spiking Panicfebruary 6 zodiacTHE BASICS What Is Anxiety? Find a therapist to overcome anxiety Key points Claims of syringe attacks on British women may be an urban myth. Despite over 1300 'attacks' in the past 6 months, there is yet to be a single confirmed case or conviction. To inject someone with a needle at a nightclub while out with friends – and without anyone realizing -defies credulity.
Anyone who believes they were drugged while out on the town should be taken seriously, and their claims thoroughly investigated. However, a recent wave of spiking reports involving syringes, has all the hallmarks of a social panic.
In autumn 2021, shocking reports began to appear across Britain about a new danger to young women: needle spiking. Typically, the victim was out clubbing with friends when she reported feeling woozy after consuming a small amount of alcohol. She would pass out and be taken home or to a hospital by friends. The next day, she had difficulty remembering what happened. Later, after examining their bodies, many claim to have found a pin prick, scratch or bruise that was assumed to be an injection site.
One high profile case involved Sarah Buckle, a University of Nottingham student who was out clubbing when she blacked out. She later woke up in hospital, unable to recall the events of the previous night. The possibility she may have been ‘spiked’ was only considered after attending medics mentioned it. That’s when she noticed a tiny pinprick on her hand.
A Surge of Cases
Soon after the first reports, law enforcement were inundated with young women describing their ordeals to a hungry media, who in turn called for more victims to come forward – and they did. Their experiences were shared on social media, along with photographs of apparent puncture wounds. Groups were formed to warn of the dangers of needle spiking, politicians called for investigations, and by February 2022, over 1,300 reports of needle spiking had been made to police over the previous 6 months (Wynn-Davies, 2022).
Implausibility and a Lack of Evidence
It is important to remember that we are NOT discussing drink spiking, but attacks involving syringes. One reason for skepticism is the range of symptoms reported, summarised in the Daily Express soon after reports began to emerge, under the headline ‘Key Signs You’ve Been Spiked.’ They include feeling ‘drunker,’ loss of balance, vision problems, lower inhibition, confusion, nausea, vomiting, and loss of consciousness. In other words, the symptoms of being needle-spiked are very similar to being intoxicated.
Many victims claimed they only had a few drinks and were not drunk. However, an Australian study of suspected incidents of drink spiking found that self-reports of alcohol consumption are often unreliable. One 17-year-old girl was taken to hospital after having only one glass of vodka. However, on further questioning, she ‘remembered’ having beer and whisky. The study also analyzed the blood and urine of patients who presented at hospital emergency departments. Of 97 patients, none had traces of a sedative in their systems (Quigley et al., 2009).
Another red flag is the use of a syringe to administer the drug. Compared to slipping something into a drink, injecting a victim carries a much higher risk of being caught. Not only that, as Professor Adam Winstock of the Global Drugs Survey notes, effectively administering an injection in a dark club through the victim’s clothes would be very challenging. Keeping the needle in the victim long enough to inject the drug would also be difficult (Brown and Rahman-Jones). London-based forensic toxicologist John Slaughter says that while not impossible, it would be very difficult to inject someone with a syringe without them knowing. Guy Jones, a senior chemist at The Loop – an organisation devoted to drug safety, concurs and notes that it would be much easier to spike a drink than to stick someone with a needle at a night club (Turnnidge, 2022).
Conspicuously, Jason Harwin of the UK’s National Police Chiefs Council observes that not a single case of alleged needle spiking has ended in a prosecution – despite nightclubs often having video that can be checked. Dr Adrian Boyle, head of emergency medicine for the UK’s National Health Service told a government inquiry on January 19, 2022, that in most cases when suspected spike victims were examined at emergency rooms, their bodies were found to be clear of sedatives. In cases where drugs were found, they were often prescriptions. In one instance, GHB was found in a sample, but it would be very difficult to inject as it is a viscous liquid (Topping, 2022).
THE BASICS What Is Anxiety? Find a therapist to overcome anxiety The Social Context
The needle spiking epidemic bears all the hallmarks of a social panic that reflect current fears. Throughout history, societies pass through periods of perceived threats by sinister forces. Often there is a grain of truth in the accounts, but the threat is grossly exaggerated such as the Communist scare of the 1950s. At other times, the evil-doer is entirely imaginary such as accusations of witches and bewitchment in Salem.
Social panics occur against a background of anxiety. After two years of pandemic restrictions, British nightclubs had only just returned to normal in the summer of 2021. Young people had endured isolation, disruption to their education, friendships, and love lives. They had been bombarded with frightening news reports about Covid, and as clubs reopened, there was still a fear of the virus and guilt associated with the possibility that they may catch it and pass it on to a vulnerable loved one. The needle, an object of fear for many people, may represent anxiety about vaccinations and fear of contamination.
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As we have seen with the Havana Syndrome panic, anxiety and stress can result in genuine physical symptoms, and this may be part of what’s happening in needle spiking episodes. What they are experiencing is a normal human reaction to stress, possibly exacerbated by the consumption of alcohol. The mythical evil needle spiker preying on vulnerable women joins a long list of phantom attackers that led to social panics: Spring Heeled Jack (1837-38), the London Monster of the 18th and 19th centuries, the Halifax Slasher (1938), the ‘Mad Gasser’ of Mattoon (1944), and the Delhi Monkey Man scare of 2001 (Evans and Bartholomew, 2009).
In the case of the Halifax Slasher in 1938, reports emerged in this northern English town about a razorblade-wielding maniac jumping out from side streets and slashing hapless victims before disappearing into the night. Attacks multiplied. The attacker had an almost supernatural ability to evade capture. Halifax Police speculated there might be two or even three slashers at work. Police were brought in from across Yorkshire, gangs of vigilantes roamed the streets, and some unfortunate suspects came close to being lynched by angry mobs. The ‘slashings’ soon spread to the rest of the UK. Police eventually concluded that the ‘slasher’ was a figment of the imagination, and most of the ‘victims’ eventually confessed to having inflicted their wounds on themselves, blaming their behavior on their nerves or a desire to make their boyfriends feel guilty after an argument (Weatherhead, 2021).
There are signs that the needle spiking bubble may be about to burst. Detective Chief Superintendent Laura McLuckie confirmed that none of the investigated reports of Scottish needle spiking had proved to be genuine attacks (Waiton, 2022). At the same time, though, reports are emerging of needle spiking attacks in Australia which very much follow the pattern of the UK (Price 2022).
Social media posts have added an even darker twist to the panic – reports of women being needle spiked with HIV. In some of these tales the woman regains consciousness to find a note in her pocket telling her she has HIV. She gets tested and finds that she is indeed HIV positive. The panic, it seems, is creating a new version of a classic urban legend from the 1980s – AIDS Mary, in which the victim wakes up after a one night stand to find ‘Welcome to the world of AIDS’ written on the bedroom mirror in lipstick.
As with these urban legends, the needle spiking panic may function as a cautionary tale. The night club is the scary forest. The syringe-wielding maniac is the Big Bad Wolf. And we all know what happens to young girls who don’t heed the warnings and stray from the path.
Co-authored with Paul Weatherhead, a musician, author and English teacher living in West Yorkshire, England.
Brown, Lindsay, and Rahman-Jones, Imran (2021). “Injection spiking: How likely is it?” BBC News, October 22.
Evans, Hilary, and Bartholomew, Robert (2009). Outbreak: The Encyclopedia of Extraordinary Social Behavior. New York: Anomalist Books.
Price, Kimberley (2022). “Police in Echuca, Newcastle concerned by reports of needle spiking nearly 1,000km apart.” ABC News Australia, January 28.
Quigley, Paul, et al. (2009). “Prospective study of 101 patients with suspected drink spiking.” Emergency Medicine Australia, 21(3):222-228 https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1742-6723.2009.01185.
Slade, Miranda (2021). “Key signs you’ve been spiked as drink spiking ‘epidemic’ hits UK – ‘It’s terrifying.’” The Express (London), October 21.
Topping, Alexandra (2022). “Needle spiking reports to UK police exceed 1,300 in six months.” The Guardian, January 26.
Turnnidge, Sarah (2022). “What do we know so far about reports of ‘spiking’ with needles?” Full Fact, October 29.
Waiton, Stuart (2022). “Stuart Waiton: Police find no evidence of spiking – yet calls grow to outlaw mythical menace.” Herald Scotland, February 2.
Weatherhead, Paul (2021). Weird Calderdale. Tom Bell Publishing, Hebden Bridge.
Wynn-Davies, Stephen (2022). “Priti Patel is planning to make spiking a criminal offence to target ‘appalling’ increase in ‘needle attacks.’” Daily Mail (Australia), February 3.
february 6 zodiacThe British Needle-Spiking Panic