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ARU and Drinkaware launch UK drink spiking study

Published: 27 May 2022 at 11:00

Glasses of beer

Anglia Ruskin teams up with charity to understand current scale of the problem

Anglia Ruskin University (ARU) has launched an important project to investigate the scale of drink spiking in the UK, thanks to a new partnership with the charity Drinkaware.

The vital research will be led by Dr Lata Gautam, Associate Professor in Forensic Science at ARU, who will be assisted by a researcher funded by Drinkaware. 

Building on Dr Gautam’s ongoing work into drug facilitated sexual assault, the researchers will develop analytical methods as well as evaluate existing methods used to detect a range of drugs and pharmaceutical compounds. 

They will analyse hair and urine samples obtained from those who believe they are a victim of drink spiking and, in collaboration with Cambridgeshire Constabulary, they will also conduct tests on drink samples collected from bars and clubs.

Drink spiking, which can involve the use of so-called “date rape drugs”, covers the addition of substances into drink or food in order to incapacitate a person, and is typically used as a way of committing sexual assault, abuse, theft, or as a prank. The addition of alcohol to non-alcoholic drinks, or higher strength alcohol to lower strength alcoholic drinks, also falls within the category of drink spiking.

While not a new phenomenon, last autumn saw a surge in cases reported in the UK media.  Locally, Cambridgeshire Constabulary received 25 complaints of drink spiking between July and October 2021, compared to 50 over the previous five years.

The media attention last autumn resulted in an investigation by UK Parliament’s Home Affairs Committee and their report, published in April, described drink spiking as an “invisible crime” due to the lack of awareness and data, making it difficult to police.

Dr Gautam, who has conducted two surveys of her own into drink spiking, said:

“With my team at ARU, we have been building our own understanding of drink spiking at a local level. While police forces, such as Cambridgeshire Constabulary, have reported recent increases, these numbers are of course dependent on victims coming forward to the police. 

“There is a clear need to form a solid evidence base so we can establish whether cases are increasing and, through extensive testing of drink samples in our labs, identify what drugs are currently being used. 

“This partnership with Drinkaware will allow us, for the first time, to establish the scale of the problem on a national level and identify the most effective ways of detecting these drugs in order to keep people safe.”

Annabelle Bonus, Director of Evidence and Impact at Drinkaware, said:

“Ensuring public spaces are safe is a collective responsibility and not one that should only be placed on the potential victim. We think focussed research and discussion into drink spiking will mean everyone will be better equipped to prevent this crime. It will also mean that we will be able to offer meaningful support to the people affected.

“We are proud to be working with Anglia Ruskin University on this project and anticipate compelling results.”