'Date rape drug' GHB not commonly used in drink spiking cases

The drug GHB is commonly associated with drink spiking, but in New Zealand, the drug is used far less than people think. 

"We don't think there is much evidence to suggest that GHB is being used a hell of a lot for spiking drinks in New Zealand. The reason for that is it's quite expensive, it's not super available, and also it has a strong detectable taste," says NZ Drug Foundation's Nathan Brown. 

He told Newshub the bigger concern regarding drink spiking in New Zealand is people using strong alcohol. For example, someone could go to a bar and request a very strong drink which they could then give to a victim. Strong alcohol can give a similar effect except it is much cheaper and it's easier to mask. 

GHB (gamma-hydroxybutyric acid), commonly associated with drink spiking, is often referred to as "liquid ecstasy", although it is a completely different drug to MDMA (ecstasy), both chemically and in the way it works. In New Zealand, it's scheduled as a Class B substance, with carrying penalties of up to 14 years' imprisonment for importation, manufacture or supply. 

An increasing number of people in the nightlife scene are said to be using GHB for its euphoric and sedative effects. It has been linked to "date-rape drug" incidents. But a 2006 British study suggested there was "no evidence to suggest widespread date rape drug use" in the UK at all and that, of the 120 cases investigated, less than 2 percent involved GHB. 

Mr Brown echoed this theory, saying it appears there is a misconception about the drug that it's used primarily to spike drinks, but it seems to be used more for personal use. But GHB is certainly available in New Zealand, he says, adding that it's "definitely more available in Auckland". 

GHB is more widely available in Auckland than the rest of the country, the NZ Drug Foundation's Nathan Brown says.
GHB is more widely available in Auckland than the rest of the country, the NZ Drug Foundation's Nathan Brown says. Photo credit: Getty

New Zealand is one of the most expensive countries in the world to buy recreational drugs, according to Mr Brown, and GHB is no different. It was first used in 1960 as an anaesthetic before surgery. More recently, GHB is being trialled as a treatment for alcohol and opiate (e.g. heroin) withdrawal.

Instances of "drink-spiking" is something that does occasionally come to police attention in New Zealand, a spokesperson told Newshub, but neither this, nor an increase in presence of GHB, is "noticeably present at this time". 

Drink spiking maybe seem more common than it is, Mr Brown suggests. He says all allegations of drink spiking should be taken seriously, but often those who think their drink has been spiked may be suffering from an unexpected reaction to strong alcohol, or they mightn't have eaten before they consumed alcohol. 

Nevertheless, drink spiking is extremely dangerous when it happens. In March, a woman appeared to capture the moment a man spiked her drink while filming on her phone at a music festival in Brazil. As she spins the camera around, a man can be seen walking behind her and appears to drop something into her cup.

An Auckland woman in her mid-twenties told Newshub her drink was spiked in June, causing her to pass out in the bathroom of a bar. After consuming a few drinks, she recalled suddenly "transitioning between conscious and unconscious". After entering the bathroom to find safety, she passed out, and a security guard had to break down the door. 

"I was eventually able to phone a friend to get me," she said. "But I wonder what danger I could have been in if I didn't lock myself in a bathroom."

New Zealand police advise people to be aware of their drinks when out and socialising, and to keep your drink close so that you don't give anyone the opportunity to tamper with it. If you notice a change in colour or taste don't drink it, and if you start to feel drowsy, tell someone you trust so they can look after you. 

"Drink spiking is rare but it can happen," the police spokesperson said, "and remember that water and fruit juice can also be spiked so be vigilant with all drinks." 

Newshub. 

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