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Drugged while out: As reports of drink spiking incidents increase across Massachusetts, Booze in Boston is providing support for victims

MassLive.com logo MassLive.com 8/10/2022 Kiernan Dunlop, masslive.com
Jennifer Wickboldt speaks about women's drinks being spiked at Boston-area bars at Senator Joseph Finnigan Park in Dorchester on Aug. 3, 2022. © Alvin Buyinza | ABuyinza/masslive.com/TNS Jennifer Wickboldt speaks about women's drinks being spiked at Boston-area bars at Senator Joseph Finnigan Park in Dorchester on Aug. 3, 2022.

When Sarah went to Loretta’s Last Call in Fenway on July 5, everything was fine until she got into an Uber with a friend and passed out.

That’s when her memory goes fuzzy.

Friends told Sarah she fell and hurt her knee when she tried to exit the Uber and vomited on the sidewalk. When she managed to get up the stairs to her friend’s apartment she passed out on his couch and said she was unconscious for two hours until she woke up to vomit again. Sarah suspected she had been drugged and said she filed a report with the Boston police the next day.

Jennifer Wickboldt speaks about women's drinks being spiked at Boston-area bars at Senator Joseph Finnigan Park in Dorchester on Aug. 3, 2022. © Alvin Buyinza | ABuyinza/masslive.com/TNS Jennifer Wickboldt speaks about women's drinks being spiked at Boston-area bars at Senator Joseph Finnigan Park in Dorchester on Aug. 3, 2022.

The detective she spoke with suggested she get tested so she went to Boston Medical Center for a urine toxicology screen, and the results came in a few hours later that she was negative for benzodiazepines, barbiturates and opiates.

“The doctor told me that toxicology tests don’t detect all date rape drugs and I believe this and the time between the spiking and the test (almost 24 hours) is why my test came back negative,” Sarah said.

Sarah, whose last name is not being used to protect her privacy, said she suspects she was drugged with GHB. GHB only stays in a person’s blood for up to 8 hours, saliva for up to 6 hours and urine for up to 12 hours, according to the American Addiction Center’s website.

Jennifer Wickboldt speaks about women's drinks being spiked at Boston-area bars at Senator Joseph Finnigan Park in Dorchester on Aug. 3, 2022. © Alvin Buyinza | ABuyinza/masslive.com/TNS Jennifer Wickboldt speaks about women's drinks being spiked at Boston-area bars at Senator Joseph Finnigan Park in Dorchester on Aug. 3, 2022.

The central nervous system depressant is detectable in the hair for up to a month, but according to the American Addiction Center it is less accurate than the other forms of testing for GHB.

”In general, GHB is difficult to detect on drug tests because of the short detection windows and lack of accuracy of it showing up on each type test,” the website said.

A detective looked at security footage at Lorretta’s Last Call, according to Sarah, but didn’t see anyone slip anything into her drink — though her drink wasn’t always clearly visible in the footage.

The detective did ask if she was sure she didn’t just drink too much, to which Sarah replied that she has had similar amounts to drink in similar time frames before and “never experienced symptoms like losing consciousness and memory.”

Her friends also told Sarah the effects they were seeing in Sarah that night “weren’t like anything they’d seen from her before.”

Sarah said the police have not gotten back to her with any suspects.

Sarah’s story is not unique. Allegations of drink spiking across the Boston area are rampant, but zero arrests have been made and victims are creating their own communities for support.

Since January the Boston police have received 56 allegations of drink spiking at local bars, restaurants and personal residences, according to data from the department.

“We’re not aware that any of these have resulted in an arrest,” Sgt. John Boyle, a spokesperson for the department told MassLive.

Police reports do not have a box to check off for drink spiking as an “event statistic” so the number of reports they were able to identify as related to drink spiking is not “airtight,” Boyle said. Boxes officers can check include gun, sexual assault, child present, drugs, gang, home invasion, victim shot, victim stabbed, car jack, homeless and more.

To find reports of suspected drink spiking, they perform a word search for words like “drink spiking” and “roofies” - if those words aren’t in the report, even if it is a situation where someone suspects they were drugged - the report won’t appear in the search. It’s possible, even likely, that the actual number of drink spiking allegations in the city is much higher than the reported total.

Sarah filed a report with Boston police on July 6, but her report didn’t come up in the department’s list of alleged drink spiking incidents because it didn’t include any of their key search terms.

As stories of alleged drinking spiking incidents in Boston and around the Commonwealth spread all over social media, three women decided to create a group where people could share their experiences, warn other people and get support.

In May, Catherine DeMore started noticing a large number of posts detailing people’s experiences alleging their drinks spiked while out on the “Betches of Boston” Facebook group.

The Facebook group describes itself as a community for women and queer people in or around Boston with the purpose of engaging, informing and supporting all things Boston related and beyond.

The sheer number of posts led DeMore, 35, to start making a list of the bars and restaurants where the suspected druggings were happening. Eventually she migrated the list to a new private group, “Booze in Boston.” DeMore created the group with Melanie Hubbard and Molly Shuman specifically to report and shed light on any and all date rape drug incidents occurring in and around the Boston area.

The group, which was created on May 23, now has nearly 5,500 members, including Sarah, and a “warning” list of 73 locations in Boston, Worcester, Cape Cod and the North Shore where members have said they were drugged while out drinking.

The group has clear rules for its members.

”Do not victim blame. Do not suggest that someone could have (handled) a situation better,” the group rules read. “These are people telling their stories.”

DeMore, one of the moderators, told MassLive she’s gotten feedback from group members that they feel it’s “a safety net to do our best to protect each other and fight for change. We deserve better than to feel unsafe when we’re seeking fun and relaxation.”

The page also gives people a place to share their stories when they aren’t comfortable going to the police, DeMore said.

The outcry on social media has caught the attention of the Boston Police Department. The department said on May 30 that it was aware of “numerous social media posts from various individuals who state they were the victims of drink spiking at local area bars.”

In the alert, the department warned of the dangers of drugs like Rohypnol, GHB and Ketamine which are scentless, colorless and tasteless. The drugs can cause disorientation, confusion, temporary paralysis or unconsciousness, making someone who ingests them vulnerable.

On the same day that Sarah suspects she was drugged, Jennifer Wickboldt came home to her sister, who was in Dorchester visiting from Florida, in the middle of a blackout.

“I noticed her words were very slurred — she doesn’t really slur words, and her balance was completely off, and then she got violently ill for about four hours,” Wickboldt said. “And I mean violently ill. I’ve just never seen her in that condition before.

Wickboldt, who also belongs to the Booze in Boston group, said she would’ve taken her to the hospital but she couldn’t get her to stop throwing up long enough to get her there, so she monitored her until she fell asleep.

When she woke up the next day, Wickboldt said her sister remembers getting home from ReelHouse restaurant in Quincy and sitting down at the kitchen table to read, but nothing after that. Wickboldt suspects her sister was drugged because she had never blacked out before this incident.

Wickboldt said she called the non-emergency number for the Quincy Police Department to report what happened to her sister and said she was told her sister would have to get a drug test done.

The department wouldn’t be able to take a report from a victim’s sister, according to Quincy police spokesperson Detective Sgt. Karyn Barkas, they would need to speak to the victim herself.

Wickboldt said the police department told her she could get a test done at a walk-in clinic or a hospital emergency room but didn’t give Wickboldt any advice about what specific clinics test and didn’t start a report. Wickboldt said she then called several clinics to see if they test for drugs typically used to spike drinks and she said none did.

Health Express, BILH Urgent Care, and Urgent Care Center: Compass Medical Center of Quincy all said they don’t provide testing, with two suggesting the ER as a place to get tested.

The department would refer someone who believed they were drugged to a hospital or wherever they could receive a test, according to Barkas, and would tell them to get tested as soon as possible because “date rape drugs can leave the system very quickly.”

Wickboldt said after calling multiple clinics she decided to call an emergency room and after being on hold for 15 to 20 mins was told they do perform the tests, but at the time there was a five-hour wait at the ER.

Ultimately her sister decided not to get tested, Wickboldt said. “She didn’t know if she was going to be charged for being tested and she was too afraid of an emergency room bill as a teacher,” Wickboldt said.

At that point Wickboldt said her sister was also very dizzy and “she didn’t want to sit up, much less stand up. So the thought of going to the ER and sitting there for five hours in a chair and then a bill possible, like it just wasn’t going to happen.”

”In trying to get her tested, Wickboldt said, “There are just no centralized resources that I could see that says if you’re drugged here are your options.”

Wickboldt called for police to have a list of places that are convenient for people that suspected they’ve been drugged to get tested and know that they’re not going to get “hit by a big bill after.”

If the testing takes place in a hospital, Dr. Peter Chai, emergency medicine physician and medical toxicologist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, said it’s likely covered by insurance, and the cost would be based on a person’s level of coverage. However, Chai said the Emergency Department cannot perform testing for specific drugs like GHB.

“Those are pretty specialized tests that usually take a few days to result. We only do screening tests (what’s commonly referred to as a urine drug screen) in the ED,” Chai said via email.

The urine drug screen tests for commonly used drugs such as benzodiazepines such as valium, cocaine, and opioids, and the tests are for general classes of drugs, not specific drugs.

To get a date rape drug screening or an unknown substances panel performed, Chai said someone would have to go to a separate lab or there would have to be a high enough clinical suspicion that they would specifically send testing for them.

”For example, if someone showed up in a coma with suspicious circumstances we might cast a wider net,” Chai said.

Fastest Labs Boston told MassLive it has unknown substance and date rape drug panels that can test urine, hair or nails for drugs. The hair and nail tests should be done a month after the suspected drugging occurred, according to Fastest Labs Boston, and the overall tests can cost between $400 and $800.

Sarah said it was really frustrating when her test came back negative and having the Booze in Boston group has helped make her feel like she’s doing something productive by sharing her story.

”As terrible as it is that this has happened to other people, it’s nice to feel like I’m not alone and to have a community that understands and believes me,” Sarah said, “I’ve been telling a lot of the people in my life about my experience and I have experienced some disbelief and victim blaming, so it’s nice to have a space where that isn’t tolerated.”

The group has also lessened the feelings of helplessness and hopelessness that she’s experienced, she said.

The group has inspired Sarah to take action. She reached out to the moderators about trying to get bars to take more measures to prevent spiking, like offering free drink lids or trying to get local or state legislation passed to mandate anti-drink spiking measures.

DeMore said she couldn’t have predicted how much attention the page has received. One member told DeMore the group is an example of what community care looks like and she agreed.

The support the page gives is similar to a network of support she’s a part of in Somerville and Cambridge, “full of queer, polyamorous, progressive, accepting, ethical people who are generally connected in one way or another.”

”We share resources in so many ways including sharing professional expertise, finances, mental capacities, time, transportation, material needs, problem solving, ensuring safety by maintaining lists of unsafe/problematic people,” she said. “It’s basically an unofficial community with a well-developed pathos & ethos.”

©2022 Advance Local Media LLC. Visit masslive.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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