Drink Spiking: Ideas for Places and Businesses

With growing numbers of reports of spiking in towns and cities across the UK, Isaac Heatlie, our Projects Officer, looks at a pragmatic response and practical ideas to this nationwide issue.

The protection of vulnerable people in the night time economy is a core principle of every partner involved in a town or city; be it the businesses, local authority, police or others. Identifying perpetrators is clearly also the primary concern.  It is also worth noting that proactive and reactive work carried out by towns and cities with whom we work has found that not all incidents have been spiking, with examples of other causes being excessive alcohol consumption or voluntary drug consumption. This serves to highlight the importance of vulnerability management and responsible alcohol retailing, together with robust policies and procedures, too. 

Some practical areas for consideration are set out below.

Perpetrator focussed messaging

Many areas are promoting messaging targeted at potential perpetrators, reminding them of the harm and consequences of spiking someone.  Whilst there currently isn’t a specific, dedicated crime type for spiking, there are crime types under which someone committing this crime can be prosecuted, which can carry a 10 year prison sentence (or greater if further crimes are committed as part of the drink spiking). 

A good example of effective messaging for a safer night time economy is Bristol Night’s recently launched anti-spiking campaign.  This campaign contains useful messaging on what drink spiking is, the symptoms of it, what to do if you or your friends have been spiked (including where to get help) whilst also targeting messaging at perpetrators too.  They have produced guidance for any venue to download to support their efforts in dealing with incidents of drink spiking.

Partnership working

One of the most effective ways to tackle this issue can be a partnership approach.  It is important for venues, local authorities, police and other stakeholders to work together in a cohesive way to achieve this.  Manchester have recently launched the Greater Manchester Anti Spiking Partnership which includes all these key partners in trying to tackle the issue of drinks spiking – this partnership is currently focussing on increasing the availability of drinks testing kits at venues.

When working in partnership, it can be really useful to increase communication with local police teams.  This helps ensure potential prosecution can be achieved as any incident, even if there is slight doubt about credibility, can be quickly reported and acted upon.

Make it clear how to get help

Promoting what customers can do if they think they or their friends may have been spiked is also a positive measure, together with what premises are doing to protect staff and customers, for example employing door staff, providing specialist training to staff, employing a first aider and/or paramedic on site, regular random drink testing of discarded drinks. There are good examples of this kind of messaging with infographic style images that are accessible and simple such as this one produced by StudentBeans.  Venues, such as this nightclub in Birmingham, are also using similar styled messaging to show their customers how they are keeping them safe.

Some areas are widening the scope of the Ask for Angela initiative, encouraging its use for anyone feeling vulnerable for any reason.

A number of venues have reported that some individuals incapacitated by a suspected spiking have transpired to have taken drugs voluntarily. The concern here is that if the individual does not disclose this, it can prevent appropriate medical treatment being administered. It is therefore important to consider this possibility and ensure that anyone dealing with a potential victim is given an appropriate strategy to enable anyone incapacitated to feel safe in disclosing this.

It is important that victims feel confident and comfortable to report the issue and seek help. One way that this could be done is to offer a dedicated anonymous reporting line for incidents and intel around spiking, which might encourage people to speak up: not just victims but those that wish to “whistle blow” if they have information about those committing the spiking.

Testing kits

There are many different testing kits available that test for different substances that can be used in spiking incidents.  No kit can test for every drug but many venues have various ones available which can help people feel safer and gives management, police and licensing a greater understanding of the issue they are dealing with.  Something that can be helpful with the testing kits is a change of approach.  Rather than testing drinks that people suspect have been spiked; a good idea is to test all drinks that are collected before being emptied for the glass wash.  This is the approach that is taken in Plymouth as part of their strategy addressing drink spiking; see more in the case study below.

Another approach that can be positive and is currently bring implemented in Gloucestershire to mirror the Devon & Cornwall approach involves ensuring all police patrol cars have a urine testing kit in so that any reported spiking incident can be tested the next day.  This again gives a better picture of the issue at hand. 

Security practices

Having good security practices in place can be helpful in preventing spiking incidents occurring.  Having security personnel, door staff or venue management talk to each person as they enter the club, letting them know the expectations of the venue, how the venue keeps its customers safe and how to look after each other can help reassure people whilst also keeping them safe.

We are aware that some venues have more recently used security/metal arches rather than body searches on entry. Whilst this is a good practice, these detectors will not pick up small metal items such as needles. Given current reports include reports of spiking by injection, consideration could be given as to conducting full body searches again as these can be more effective in ensuring items that can cause harm are prevented from getting it the venue.

Search policies may need to be adapted or revised due to the increased number of reports of spiking by injection.  Security and staff may need training on what to look our for and what needs to be done should anything be found that needs to be confiscated.  For example, it is now being considered that EpiPens could potentially be used as a tool for spiking – venues will have to be aware of these developments whilst also finding a balance between confiscation for protection and potential disability discrimination

Welfare and vulnerability engagement (WAVE) training

Training staff so that they are able to support those who have been spiked, those who are vulnerable and those who are intoxicated helps ensure that all members of staff are able to keep customers safe in a variety of situations.  WAVE training, delivered by the Safer Sounds Partnership, is an effective training package that venues can sign up for.  This training provides those working in and around the licensed trade with greater awareness of how to work with vulnerable people and their responsibility to do this.  This training isn’t just for people who work in pubs, bars and clubs, it is available to anyone working in the night time economy such as police, council staff and transport staff; this could be beneficial to create a network of people within your town or to support those who need it.

Quiet spaces

Having a designated safe space can be a good way to ensure that those in need can get the support they need away from the hustle and bustle of a venue from trained staff or paramedics.  If possible, consider having at least a section of this spaces lit with softer lighting.  This will help keep people calm and not induce panic attacks or shock from the sudden change in environment, which can be especially helpful to those intoxicated with drugs.

Safe alcohol consumption messaging

It could be useful to reinforce messaging to the public around safe consumption of alcohol.  This is likely to be of greater relevance in the current climate given that there are many young people who will have turned 18 during lockdown who may be less likely to know their limits for safe consumption of alcohol and safety procedures present in venues.   This messaging could also acknowledge how different circumstances can change how alcohol impacts upon them, for example how people can feel more drunk if they haven’t eaten, if they are on their period, if they have taken drugs etc.  An idea to address this could be to emphasise “go slow” messages, a good example of this comes from Talk To Frank.

Providing additional training to staff around the responsibility not to serve alcohol to drunk people could also be worthwhile.  Whilst it is well known that the Licensing Act requires licensed premises not to serve people who are drunk, it is always helpful to remind staff of this responsibility and give them strategies to uphold it.  Further training would remind staff the importance of erring on the side of caution when serving customers who they think are too drunk.

Additional support

Further support to tackle the issue and support people who may have been spiked could be considered.  This could include funding extra paramedics if there is a safe space operating in the area, or considering having a dedicated team of one police officer and one paramedic roaming or staying close to the main NTE centre in a town or city, for example.  This is something that Clapham BID have funded to a good level of success with the Clapham Night Hub.

A similar approach has been taken in Weston-Super-Mare.  Here, a police crackdown on the issue has been conducted alongside the introduction of a paramedic being stationed in the town centre to support those who feel vulnerable.  A designated taxi driver has also been sponsored to ensure that vulnerable people are taken home safely.

Drink Spiking Policy Template

A policy template addressing the issue of drink spiking could be made available to all venues free of charge.  This policy template would help and support premises in adapting their venues or procedures to better prevent and manage spiking incidents.  An offer could be given to venues for support from council licensing officers, police or Business Improvement District staff in translating this template to be relevant to that particular venue if required.

What to do if there is an incident at your venue
Taking these precautions and preventative measures is crucial, and we know that venues are doing the most they can to address this issue, however some incidents may still occur so it is important to know what your duty is as a venue. 

Given the reports of spiking by injection, it is a good suggestion for venues to remember their obligations to look after staff and guests under the Health & Safety at Work Act 1974.  The measures above and any other reasonable adjustments should be made to minimise the risk posed by spiking.  It is also a good idea to ensure any licensing agreements are being upheld to achieve this too.

If there is an incident, supporting the victim is the first port of call – this includes supporting them in reporting the issue to police if they are comfortable doing this.  If your venue is made aware of an alleged spiking incident, the area this happened should be sealed off from the public so that forensics can conduct a full and proper investigation and find any useful evidence.  National Pubwatch have produced this useful resource to support venues in doing this.

Case Study: Plymouth #SpikeAware Campaign

Plymouth had a spate of reports of drinking spiking back in 2019 and as a result they developed a proactive partnership of police, Pubwatch and the Best Bar None scheme.  All the venues that are part of the partnership are actively engaged which has led to the success of the approach.  This partnership led to the setting up of #WeAreSpikeAware messaging that was rolled out as the brand for their approach to dealing with spiking – the following measures were implemented as part of this:

  1. To have a member of door staff monitoring the drinks table for the smoking area at all times
  2. Large numbers of testing kits in venues, all drinks collected before going in the glass wash are tested
  3. The police in Plymouth all carried a urine testing kit and attended the home of anyone who reported being spiked to test urine
  4. A strong awareness campaign that advises people how to stay safe, what venues are doing
  5. Perpetrator focussed messaging promoting the fact that spiking can carry a prison sentence
  6. Anti-spiking covers etc. made available to customers
  7. Full training for all venue staff on what to do if someone thinks they have been spiked, and also training for how to manage a sexual assault being reported to them

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