About three weeks ago a Nelson man woke up in the hospital not knowing how he got there. Fortunately a friend explained she had taken him there after he started acting very strangely in a bar the night before. The hospital lab told him he had meth and MDMA in his system, even though as far as he knew he had only had a few beers.
Around the same time Jamie MacBeth of ANKORS, the Kootenay Boundary AIDS Network, Outreach and Support Society, posted on Facebook about two other dosings. Her post reads in part:
“Hey Nelson and area friends, an FYI. There have been two confirmed GHB/roofie dosings at a bar in town here. There may have been more that have not been reported. When this is done in a bar/party scene it is almost always by someone with predator intentions. So just to be safe, watch your drink, don’t leave it unattended, even if you are a guy. Look after your friends, and stay with them.”
ANKORS provides a variety of harm-reduction and education services related to sexual health, drug use, HIV and hepatitis C.
MacBeth told the Star this week the two people mentioned in her post were taken to the hospital and are okay. But since she wrote that post, she has learned of four other people in Nelson over the past four weeks who have been dosed with GHB, commonly known as a date-rape drug.
“I am guessing that number is low,” she said. “I think I am just getting a small peek at it. If I hear about it, there is probably double that number.”
MacBeth said people don’t know how, whether, or where to report it.
“The trend is that people under-report. Part of it is shame, and it is one of the complexities of rape culture. People wake up and can’t remember what happened and they tend to blame themselves: ‘I drank too much, it is my own fault.’ If someone wakes up with no memory and bruises and doesn’t know what happened, there can be complex reasons why they would not share this.”
MacBeth said in many of these cases there was predatory behaviour or “some guy hanging around the person that was dosed.” And she said it doesn’t just happen in bars.
The necessity of reporting extends to others, she said, citing the “bystander effect.” Bystanders at parties and in bars tend to want to “be polite and keep the cool vibe,” but need to be proactive.
“If you see someone dosing someone else, say something. Smash that glass out of their hand. If you see someone creeping on a severely inebriated person, intervene. We are a community here, and we are meant to look out for each other.”
Sgt. Nate Holt of the Nelson Police Department told the Star they have not seen an increase in reports of this kind.
“There was one report [from just after New Year’s],” he said, “but it was unsubstantiated. But we are not saying it does not happen.”
Sarah Bolton of the Advocacy Centre told the Star she knows police don’t always get reports.
“Women are even less likely to report these than a regular sexual assault,” she said.
Bolton’s advice for partiers and bar-goers is based on ten years of supporting victims of family and sexual violence in Nelson, and is meant especially for women.
“For safety, have a buddy system when you go out. Don’t leave each other at the bar. If someone is acting wasted don’t leave them with anybody. Never leave your drink unattended. If you think someone has been drugged, get them to the hospital. Some of these drugs can really have bad effects on you, so it is good to get your health checked.”
MacBeth said it’s important to be checked soon after the incident because GHG metabolizes quickly and is hard to trace.
Weeks after his hospitalization, the man referred to at the beginning of this article says he is still piecing together what happened.
“I had a few beers before I got to the bar. I can’t remember anything after the first half hour. My friend who took me to the hospital got me into the cab and [my friends told me] there were people outside saying, ‘You don’t have to get in the cab man, you don’t need to,’ so there was that little dark energy there.
“If that had not happened I could easily dismiss it as I accidentally grabbed someone else’s drink and it would not matter, but something else was going on. In hindsight, it might not be related. I was in the hospital almost 12 hours. I could not keep my balance for a long time, for a few hours after.”
He says he does not blame the bar.
“The venues are not at fault here. Drugs are so cheap and easy to come by.”