What you need to know:
- Investigations show that a number of drugs, mostly sedatives and ‘date rape drugs’, are being used for this life-threatening illicit activity.
- A person’s drink can be spiked to make them more vulnerable for a variety of motives.
Last December is one that Allan Karanja, 50, will always live to remember.
On a Friday at about 5.30pm, he dressed to kill before heading out to club-hop.
“Ruiru pubs are full of life during the festive season but on that day I was in that mood just to explore Kiambu night life to the fullest,” he starts off.
The father of one says all went well at the beginning of his night out.
“I am a very social person and so I quickly make friends whenever I go out to drink but since the hype was not where I wanted it be at the first pub I entered, I moved to another.”
He loved this one especially because speakers were going hammer, thanks to a local DJ who knew how to deliver.
His new drinking buddies at the table he sat were quick to usher him in and being a man who thoroughly enjoys female company, he did not mind.
“I remember that night vividly. I actually switched pubs because I wanted somewhere noisy, where there was life and people were dancing because the lockdowns as a result of Covid-19 pandemic had become nauseating to me.
The pub was now full to the brim as he kept dancing away.
“I could not go back to where I was previously seated though I immediately spotted another table where three well-dressed ladies had settled just looking on as we partied away.
“I went over and was ushered to the extra seat after greeting them,” Allan narrates.
He went ahead to order nyama choma and drinks for his ‘new friends’.
“They hadn’t had dinner and so I also bought them fries then asked the waiter to deliver five more rounds of what everyone at our table was having.
“In between I would get up to dance away and leave everything, including my drinks under their care because they looked harmless and trustworthy.
“Considering we are all struggling to survive a pandemic, I have always been of the view that it is good to be kind to whoever you meet because you may not know what battle they are currently fighting,” Allan says.
Anita, one of the three ladies, didn’t mind a chat apart from spicing up his night with seductive dances to a point that it felt to him like they had known each other all their lives.
“She told me I looked so drunk and should start hydrating — it made sense when she gave me a sip of water from a glass next to her and so I took it without any questions,” he discloses.
Allan says that’s the last thing he clearly remembers from that night at the pub.
He later discovered that they had spiked the water he was given as well as his drinks.
“I lost focus and blacked out but what I gathered after my ordeal is that they pretended to take me home, got us an uber then asked me to take them to my place.
“I was not myself and so I obliged to everything they asked.
“No one suspected as I ushered them to my house, not even the watchman. In fact, they told him that they were my relatives who had come to drop me home and pick some stuff,” Allan explains.
The three ladies went away with almost everything he owned.
“All electronics and valuable possessions were carried away, including shoes,” he recalls.
But the three were not done with him just yet.
“The next day when I replaced my simcard, I discovered that they had cleared the Sh35,000 that was left in my M-Pesa and had even taken a Fuliza loan of Sh30,000, with the withdrawals being made from Kahawa Sukari. How they convinced me to give them access remains a mystery,” Allan highlights.
Allan says the ladies work as a group as neighbours told him they saw three men show up to take his belongings away and since he was there they thought he had decided to move out.
“I regained my consciousness the next day and found myself somewhere in Roysambu where good Samaritans helped me get back to my place only to discover that I was pissing blood.
“A friend told me to take lots of water so that the drug that was used to spike me would be washed off from my system, and it worked.
Allan is one of very many men in Kenya who have fallen victim to having their drinks unknowingly spiked; as such reports have increasingly become alarming since the re-opening of clubs and pubs that were shut down due to Covid-19 pandemic.
At a popular night club in Ongata Rongai, Healthy Nation meets up with Lucy Nyambura (not her real name), who confesses to have laced drinks of 12 different men within the last one year using Stilnox.
“You just have to look good, expose your body a bit and some men will come drooling because all they come to do is to look for company and sex while my objective is very clear — to make money as I have mouths to feed,” she discloses.
Nyambura says her group of girls introduced her to this trade.
“It’s not something that I am proud of but life pushed me to a corner and when men who are running away from their frustrated marriages come here to drown in alcohol and want you to drink with them till morning then sleep with you , how will you make good money to afford rent and other basic needs ?”
Nyambura says she and her friends obtain the drugs they use from a ‘local dealer’ in the area.
“ This is Kenya , if you know people who know people you will always get those drugs but I can assure you I have only taken money and electronics – I have not killed anyone,” she says.
They know how to target their prey.
“When what you do every single night is sit in night clubs where men can find you , once one walks through the door you can tell if they are vulnerable enough not to see it coming or not. You just have to pay attention while waiting for the right time to slip it in while they are carried away , dancing away or thinking about what they will do to you later that night,” Nyambura paints a picture.
A person’s drink can be spiked to make them more vulnerable for a variety of motives, including theft or sexual assault, and the different types of spiking include a number of substances being added to your drink.
The substances may be alcohol, date rape drugs’, illegal drugs or prescription drugs such as stimulants ,opiates , tranquilizers or sedatives.
Investigations by Healthy Nation show that a number of drugs, mostly sedatives and ‘date rape drugs’ , are being used for this life-threatening illicit activity.
The commonly used drugs include stilnox, amitriptyline, rohypnol, vailum and ketamine.
According to Dr George Njoroge, a board member at the Kenya Medical Research Institute and the founder of Centre of Africa’s Life Sciences, who is credited for spearheading the discovery of the anti-cancer drug SARASAR®, Stilnox belongs to a class of medicines referred to as hypnotics and works by binding to special sites in the brain and makes one go to sleep.
“Medically, it is used for treatment of short-term sleeping disorder and is normally recommended at a dose of 10mg or less. It usually takes about one hour to start working.
Some people have reported doing some bizarre things like sleepwalking, driving motor vehicles and even making phone calls while asleep. Many of these strange behaviours are likely to happen when Stilnox is mixed with alcohol. Interestingly, many of them would not remember some of these things when they wake up.
“Major side effects associated with taking stilnox include drowsiness, blurred vision, double vision, reduced alertness, headaches and hallucinations,” Dr Njoroge explained to Healthy Nation.
The expert went ahead to dissect amitriptyline.
“Amitriptyline is a drug that is commonly used as antidepressant, primarily for major depression disorder. It has also been used to treat a variety of syndromes such as neuropathic pain, fibromyalgia and migraine. It is also known to treat insomnia since it has sedative effects, thus has been widely prescribed as a sleep aid.
The major side effects associated with Amitriptyline include blood in urine, dizziness, abdominal and stomach pain, blurred vision, confusion about identity, place or time, sleepiness and fatigue. Treatment of Amitriptyline is mostly supportive as no specific antidote is available. However, activated charcoal may reduce absorption if provided within one to two hours of ingestion.”
Since 1990s, Rohypnol, which is now popularly known in the country as ‘bugizi’, has been used illegally to lessen the depression caused by the abuse of stimulants such as cocaine and methamphetamine, and also as an aid for sexual assault.
Previously, the drug was available as a white tablet that dissolved with no colour, taste, or smell but is now formulated as an oblong caplet that is light green with a blue core.
The manufacturer instituted this change to help identify tampered drinks in clubs. When dissolved in clear liquids, the blue core will turn the clear liquid to blue. However, when dissolved in darker-coloured liquids, the blue dye may not be noticeable and generic versions of this drug may not contain the blue dye.
It is consumed orally and is often combined with alcohol. Rohypnol use causes a number of adverse effects, which may last 12 hours or more, including drowsiness, sleep ,dizziness, loss of motor control decreased reaction time , impaired judgement , lack of coordination, slurred speech ,confusion, aggression or excitability, loss of memory of events while under the influence (amnesia), stomach disturbances and respiratory depression with higher doses.
The so-called “date-rape drug” is placed unknowingly in the drinks of victims, often at a bar or party (“club drug”).
Due to the strong amnesia produced by the drug, victims would have limited or no memory of the assault, according to experts.
Scientists further explain that amnesia is an expected pharmacologic effect of benzodiazepines (drugs which lower brain activity—they are prescribed to treat conditions such as anxiety, insomnia and seizures).
Drugs .com explains that Rohypnol causes partial amnesia; individuals are unable to remember certain events that they experience while under the influence of the drug.
“However, this effect is particularly dangerous when Rohypnol is used illicitly to aid in sexual assault. Victims may not be able to clearly recall the assault, the assailant, or the events surrounding the assault.”
If Rohypnol exposure is to be detected, urine samples need to be collected within 72 hours of consumption and subjected to sensitive analytical tests.
Experts observe that very often, biological samples are taken from the victim at a time when the effects of the drug have already passed and only residual amounts remain in the body fluids.
“These residual amounts are difficult, if not impossible, to detect using standard screening assays. Due to this, it is difficult to estimate the number of Rohypnol-facilitated rapes.
The problem is compounded by the onset of amnesia after ingestion of the drug, which causes the victim to be uncertain about the facts surrounding the rape. This uncertainty may lead to critical delays or even reluctance to report the rape and to provide appropriate biological samples for toxicology testing.”
Joseph Wainaina, a pharmaceutical technologist in Kiambu County, told Healthy Nation that in Kenya these drugs are not usually sold over the counter just to anyone.
“One has to have a comprehensive prescription therefore those misusing it must be acquiring the doses via other unorthodox means,” he said. A quick online search carried out by Healthy Nation brought us to epharmacyke.com, which indicates that the price of ROHYPNOL 1MG (FLUNITRAZEPAM) – 30 TABS is Sh1,110 though it says the drug is permanently out of stock while explaining why.
“A World Health Organization review concluded that flunitrazepam had a moderate abuse potential that might be higher than that of other benzodiazepines. It was reported that there was current evidence of widespread abuse of flunitrazepam among drug abusers, particularly among those who used opioids or cocaine,” the online distributor explains.
In 2018, the Pharmacy and Poisons Board (PPB) raised an alarm that pharmacists in Nairobi and Mombasa were colluding with criminals by selling what they called ‘rape drugs’ such as Rohypnol.
“These drugs have become a big part of the crime in Mombasa. Youth as young as 12 are engaging in mugging and robbery,” PPB head of crime investigation and enforcement unit Dennis Otieno then cautioned.
“We have instructed distributors of narcotics and psychotropic substances to provide distribution and returns of the said drugs to the PPB offices. All quantities must have references that can be used in inspections and audits,” PPB head of inspection Jacinta Wasike added.
Ketamine is another drug which is commonly used and abused by those targeting to spike your drink.
Experts describe the drug as a dissociative injected anesthetic (blocks sensory perception) that has been available by prescription since the 1970s for human and veterinary uses.
It was approved in 2019 for treatment-resistant depression and is approved for use in depressed patients with acute suicidal ideation or behaviour, according to drugs.com.
Dissociative drugs can lead to distortion of sights, colours, sounds, self, and one’s environment, which makes it a perfect candidate for those who spike your drink to use.
Dr Njoroge explains that “snorting” of ketamine leads to effects in roughly five to 15 minutes (this is the most common method of abuse) while oral consumption will take you out in five to 30 minutes. The effects of abuse typically last one to two hours, but the user’s judgement, senses and coordination may be affected for up to 24 hours or longer while sensations the user may seek include floating, stimulation and visual effects.
High doses may dangerously reduce breathing, lead to muscle spasms or weakness, dizziness, balance difficulty, impaired vision, slurred speech, nausea and vomiting and severe confusion.
Scientists warn that ketamine use can be fatal in people who are alcoholics or acutely intoxicated with alcohol.
“There are reports of an increased risk of toxicity when ketamine is combined with caffeine. Theoretically, this may be a concern in people who have consumed energy drinks, often done at nightclubs where ketamine may be abused.”
A team of researchers at the University of South Carolina in a peer-reviewed study published by the American Psychological Association’s journal known as the Psychology of Violence sought to determine the prevalence of drink spiking by looking at survey data from 6,064 students at three universities.
Suzanne Swan, who led the study, says 462 students (7.8 per cent) reported 539 incidents in which they said they had been drugged, and 83 (1.4 per cent) said either they had drugged someone, or they knew someone who had drugged another person.
“These data indicate that drugging is more than simply an urban legend,” Swan said.
The experts pointed out significant gender differences.
“Women were more likely to be the victims of spiking and reported more negative consequences than men, the study found, although men comprised 21 per cent of the victims.
Women were also more likely to report sexual assault as a motive while men more often said the purpose was “to have fun.” Other less common reported motives included to calm someone down or make someone go to sleep,” they observed.
“Even if a person is drugging someone else simply ‘for fun’ with no intent of taking advantage of the drugged person, the drugger is still putting a drug in someone else’s body without their consent — and this is coercive and controlling behavior,” Swan explains.
The team, however, notes that their study has limitations.
“We have no way of knowing if the drugging victims were actually drugged or not, and many of the victims were not certain either.
It is possible that some respondents drank too much, or drank a more potent kind of alcohol than they were accustomed to.
Additionally, many common drugs, including over-the-counter medications, can interact with alcohol and victims often don’t remember what happened when they were drugged, the authors wrote.”
How to stay safe when partying
Mr Wainaina says while it is the role of the government, pub and club owners to ensure that all venues are safe from assault and harassment such as drink spiking, it becomes a collective responsibility.
This means that all venues that are licensed to sell alcohol have a legal duty for public safety and the prevention of crime and disorder on their premises, and this should be monitored by the government as the licences to sell alcohol usually include conditions to ensure venues have appropriate security and staff in place.
Another way some venues ensure safety is give out drink stoppers for the top of your bottle to prevent someone from dropping something in your drink.
On a personal level,Mr Wainaina says there are a number of things we can do to help avoid being a victim of drink spiking keeping in mind that the vice can also happen in an indoor or house party setting.
First, never leave your drink unattended, whether it’s alcoholic or not, go out with a friend you can trust, stick together and look out for each other, do not drink too much and do not accept a drink from someone you don’t really know.
In case you suspect that a friend has been spiked, do not leave them alone but instead, tell a bar or pub manager, bouncer or staff, keep them company and keep talking to them, take them to a hospital or call an ambulance if the situation deteriorates, do not leave them with a stranger or someone they do not trust and don’t let them go home on their own.