Harsher new sentences over ‘spiking’ drugs don’t go far enough say campaigners
People found to be possessing or supplying drugs used to spike drinks will face harsher prison sentences under new rules, but campaigners say this does not go far enough.
In a bid to deter criminals, the Home Office has announced that GHB and two related substances, GBL and 1,4-BD, have been reclassified to a Class B in recognition of the harms they cause, although there has been no change to the sentencing guidelines for the use of other drugs which can be used for spiking.
Under the new classification people in unlawful possession of the class B drugs which have been found to facilitate serious crimes, including murder, rape, sexual assault and robbery, will face up to five years behind bars, with up to 14 years for people involved in supply and production.
Over recent months there have been reports of a spate of needle spiking incidents and drink contaminating incidents in pubs and clubs across Wales, including a young woman from Newport and a teenage girl from Swansea.
Responding to the news, VAWDASV (Violence against women, domestic abuse and sexual violence) Consultant Ali Morris said: “While I welcome this important step forward in protecting women, not all women are drugged using the named substances as happened to the teenage girl in Swansea.
“Government needs to ensure there are no loopholes that leave women vulnerable and unable to gain justice.”
Following the Swansea incident last month Gower MP Tonia Antoniazzi called on the police and hospitals to work together to protect victims after the teenage girl became a victim of spiking in a local nightclub.
She said: “Drink spiking is a growing issue in pubs, clubs and bars across the country and it’s unacceptable that women have to contend with this violence when they go out for a drink in Swansea.
“I’ve written to the health board and the police to ask what they are doing to ensure evidence is gathered quickly when someone is spiked. The police and hospitals need to be working in tandem to protect victims when these disgusting incidents occur.”
According to Safe Communities Wales, spiking is the deliberate act of contaminating a soft drink with alcohol or administering prescription drugs or illegal drugs to someone’s drink or body without their knowledge.
They are usually fast acting, even at a low dose and are used to facilitate control over the victim leaving them very vulnerable to assault, rape and robbery.
A majority of concerns relate to pubs and clubs, with young women most likely to be spiked and most perpetrators being men, although notable exceptions to this exist as in the case of Reynhard Sinaga who was jailed in January 2020 for using GHB to drug and rape more than 40 men.
Symptoms may be mistaken by health care professionals as voluntary intoxication, leading to a delay in diagnosis, and difficulty in bringing prosecution. As incidents are not readily collectable from Health Boards, data from policing, health and 3rd sector organisations is currently being collated and evaluated.
As there is no single offence of ‘spiking’ and there is a very low availability of sample testing, identifying actual prevalence compared to level of concern is not possible, making it difficult to identify the true extent of reports to policing.
Safe Communities Wales says that ‘Spiking’ terminology is misleading as according to data collected from one police force, around 19% of reported offences related to needles whereas over 50% related to drinks which had been contaminated, while the source of a further 31% cases were unknown.
GHB, or gamma-hydroxybutyrate, is a sedative that is used recreationally, lowering inhibitions and giving users a sense of euphoria, but it can also make them feel sleepy and put them at risk of overdose and death.
A review of controls on the drugs was commissioned by the Home Secretary in January 2020 amid growing concern over the criminal use of GHB and similar substances.
The independent Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD), which previously found evidence of a “concerning increase” in the harm GHB causes, recommended that GHB and related substances become class B drugs.
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