A dramatic rise in the number of women drugged against their will in France has young people watching their drinks carefully.

Needle-spiking trend in Europe alarms nightclubbers — especially women

In southwest France, just about everyone seems to know someone who’s been jabbed by a syringe while out partying at a dance club.

The World

A dramatic rise in the number of people drugged against their will in France has young people watching their drinks carefully. But they've no way to protect themselves from the latest trend: needle-spiking, or using syringes to quickly inject so-called date-rape drugs into victims.

Gerry Hadden/The World

Romane Lafraise no longer likes to go out with friends after a celebratory night out at a dance club last month took a devastating turn.  

“I didn't drink alcohol,” the 17-year-old recalled of her night out to celebrate her high school graduation in Bordeaux, France. “I didn't take drugs. I was very, very clean.”

But then, she said, her head went from clear to confused.

“I just didn't feel good at all,” she said. “It was very, very painful in my head. And I just couldn’t understand why.”

Romane Lafraise fainted. Her friends got her home safely. When she changed into her pajamas, she said, she saw a mark on her ribs that she believes was caused by a needle jab. 

In Europe, authorities are warning of a rise in drugging people at nightclubs by needle-spiking — jabbing someone with a syringe. Police, doctors and medico-legal services are working together to support victims. 

Romane Lafraise, 17, and her mother Beatrice Lafraise, at their home outside Bordeaux, France. Romane believes she was "spiked" with a drug-filled syringe at a local nightclub this spring.

Romane Lafraise, 17, and her mother Beatrice Lafraise, at their home outside Bordeaux, France. Romane believes she was "spiked" with a drug-filled syringe at a local nightclub. She became groggy and disoriented but a friend helped her home. French police report hundreds of such cases this year alone. 

Credit:

Gerry Hadden/The World

“My daughter was so agitated,” Beatrice Lafraise said. 

Her daughter’s pupils dilated, she said, and the jab left a 2-centimeterlong red mark on her skin, with a puncture wound at the center. 

“I don’t dare imagine what might have happened,” she said, “if my daughter had been alone, or with some sicko.”

French police have registered some 300 cases of needle-spiking since March. 

The UK saw its first cases in 2021. Belgium and Spain say it’s on their radar, too. 

Arrests are difficult to make, police say, because catching the perpetrator is so difficult. 

They tend to slip away before the victims — mostly female — become aware of what happened, only to return later under the guise of trying to "help." 

In the meantime, doctors are struggling to understand just how needle-spiking started. 

It is possible to buy hyperthin needles and so-called date rape drugs easily online. But many people that The World spoke to theorize that it's a sadistic mind game, with copycats joining in across the continent. 

Authorities, together with public health officials and the national drug agency, have not determined a motive for the attacks, or whether the victims were injected with drugs, viruses or any substance at all.

The targeted individuals show visible marks of injection, often bruises, and report symptoms like feeling groggy. The ministry official urged caution in assuming a link between the needle pricks and GHB.

In the cases so far that resulted in charges, medical tests did not reveal any signs of harmful substances, including so-called date rape drug GHB, authorities said.

But Dawn Dines, founder of the nonprofit Stamp Out Spiking, which works to combat drink spiking in Britain, told The Washington Post that possible motives could include assault, rape, human trafficking or even personal vendettas, and she called for better education of bar employees, security officials and others involved in the nightlife scene.

All of this has young people — and authorities — on edge. Some people are sharing advice about avoiding getting pricked — as well as unconfirmed rumors — on social media.

France’s Interior Ministry has tweeted a warning: It says, “do you think you’ve been drugged? Go to the police, get a blood test right away.”

The police and most club owners in Bordeaux have remained largely silent on the issue. 

But Lorenzo Moliari, a professional DJ at one of Bordeaux’s busy clubs, said that he knows of at least one incident of needle-spiking. 

“In our club, yeah, it happened one time,” he said, “but there was no drug effect. The girl just felt something. I think it was in the shoulder.”

Moliari has a unique vantage point above the dance floor. He said that ever since he started spinning music 30 years ago, he’s heard about drugging incidents.

“Everywhere, all around the world,” he said. “It’s been like that since Studio 54 in New York in 1978, 1979.” 

Teens in France couldn't go dancing for two years due to COVID-19. Now they're out in force. But the party's been dampened by people drugging drinks in attempts to exploit using "needle-spiking" and young people say they're frightened.

Teens in France couldn't go dancing for two years due to COVID-19. Now they're out in force. But the party's been dampened by people drugging drinks in attempts to exploit using "needle-spiking" and young people say they're frightened.

Credit:

Gerry Hadden/The World

At Barcelona’s largest disco, Razzmatazz, some 3,000 young people groove on various dance floors. There’s always someone who gets too drunk, or too high, said head of security Jaime Ginesta.

When they see people who appear vulnerable leaving with others, Ginessta said, “we take photos of their IDs. We can’t stop someone from leaving the club. But at least we have a record should something go awry.”

Hundreds of young people line up outside the Razzmatazz disco in Barcelona. Security guards are constantly on the look out for men trying to take advantage of inebriated women.

Hundreds of young people line up outside the Razzmatazz disco in Barcelona. 

Credit:

Gerry Hadden/The World

For Bordeaux high school grad Romane Lafraise, the experience left her feeling spooked. It took her about four days to fully recover and lately, she prefers to stay at home. 

She’s also undergoing HIV testing to ensure that the syringe used was not infected.

“We have the right to have fun and to have parties,” Romane Lafraise said.

She said she hopes the needle-spikers will just stop. 

The Associated Press contributed to this report.