Credit: Hari Nandakumar via Unsplash

Reckoning with the risks: injection spiking and its longer term consequences

By Lucy Dunn

Editor-in-Chief and medical student Lucy Dunn discusses the dangers of injection spiking.

Spiking by injection is the new twisted trend infiltrating nightclubs across the UK, with an unprecedented number of complaints seeping across social media. As if dropping drugs in an unsuspecting victim’s drink wasn’t reviled enough, the reports of young women waking up the following morning with small skin punctures from suspected needles are beyond repulsive. Whilst the topic of spiking has been a trending Twitter topic, though, it’s only one of the major risks with this new means of violence. As a medical student, I’ve been warned about “needlesticks”, and the arduous, anxiety-provoking process of blood-letting and paperwork that follows, never mind the chance of receiving a world-shattering diagnosis. So whilst the direct effects of “spiking” are one thing, the long-term ramifications of blood infection present an entirely different trauma.

Simply put, when an used needle punctures your skin, you are at risk of contracting blood-borne infections and diseases, some of the best known including human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), and hepatitis C. Some of these are curable, for example, hepatitis C – albeit after an extremely unpleasant course of drugs – and some are not, like HIV. Testing is essential: you will be unable to tell if you have been infected with these conditions for a significant period of time which means you may also end up passing the conditions on to other people without realising. 

“Testing is essential: you will be unable to tell if you have been infected with these conditions for a significant period of time…”

Some could call it scaremongering but, particularly in our home city, this presents an extremely important issue. Glasgow is currently in the midst of an HIV outbreak, quoted as the “largest outbreak in the UK for over 30 years”, that has been ongoing since 2015. This is largely related to the community of people who inject drugs (PWIDs) injecting not only heroin, but more recently cocaine too. Other factors implicated in the rise of the blood-borne virus, as found by the Royal College of Psychiatrists, include an aging population of PWIDs, cuts to drug-treatment and harm-reduction budgets, and increasing poly-drug use. 

To briefly break down the jargon, HIV is a virus that replicates inside human cells and over time, weakens the immune system – the body’s defences – making the carrier more vulnerable to infections and diseases. Medicine has evolved to the point that treatment for HIV can reportedly give men the same, if not longer, life expectancy than those who do not have the virus, however it remains incurable, and those who have it need to declare it to their partner and certain employers. Hepatitis C, meanwhile, is a blood-borne liver condition that can result in severe damage to the organ if left untreated, and amongst PWIDs in the UK, around 40% have the infection. 

Whilst relatively unlikely – the risk of contracting HIV from an injury via a needle contaminated with blood from an HIV-positive person is 0.23% – the problem is that we just don’t know. We don’t know if the injection needle was new or used; we don’t know who else it may have been used on, how many people, and whether or not they have blood-borne infections; and we don’t know who is going into these clubs with the intent of injecting some innocent partygoer, and who is leaving them with a unwilling, and likely unwitting, victim in tow. 

Opinion has also been split on how effective spiking by injection likely is, with some professionals stating that for the desired effect to take place, several millilitres of drug would have to be injected, with consultant psychiatrist Professor Winstock stating: “That hurts, and people notice.” However, other doctors, including anaesthetist Dr Lakhani, have pointed out that some needles can be so small that you may barely feel a thing, especially if under the influence of alcohol. The issue of what people are being spiked with is also undecided. Usually spiking by drink takes place with the perpetrator adding in alcohol, ketamine or sedatives, and currently both police and medics alike are unsure what injection spiking may consist of. The jury remains out on a number of issues but the take home message is better safe than sorry. If this happens to you, your friends, or anyone you know, ensuring they get their blood tested for blood-borne infections is one of the key priorities, after ensuring in the immediate term that they are stable, and safe.

“If this happens to you, your friends, or anyone you know, ensuring they get their blood tested for blood-borne infections is one of the key priorities…”

There aren’t words to describe how disgusting these alleged acts are; and it’s only another on a long list of dangers women face day-in, day-out. Not only do we have to consider the risks of walking home at night, or who may try to take advantage of us when we’re a few drinks in, or the scepticism of those in power when we do come forward to report experiences, we now have to take into account that if spiking isn’t dealt with better, by club security, owners, and police, we may face life-long, incurable consequences. Life-changing consequences, as if the psychological impacts weren’t already enough. When is this going to stop? Will this ever end, on any level? We need better protection, and we need better education. We need our reports to be taken seriously, we need our concerns listened to, and we need this terrifically damaging means of abuse to be prevented from ever occurring. We need men to see that this is a reality of our lives, and we need boys to understand how horribly wrong this kind of behaviour is. With a year filled up with reports of gender-based violence in what felt like a never-ending cycle of tragedy and torment, we can’t let it end like this. Things need to get better, not worse. The conversation needs to count for something. 


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