Musings from the ever-changing, ever-amazing and occasionally ever-baffling Fort McMurray, Alberta.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

A Cautionary Tale

There are some posts that are difficult to write, and I've been struggling with this one for a few days. I wasn't even quite sure about writing it at all but in the end my desire to share this story overrode any qualms I had about doing so.

Like everyone else I like the occasional night out. Last weekend a friend and I went out for dinner and then to a local pub for a few drinks. It was fun times for the most part, but as the evening wore on things got a little stranger (as they often do in pubs when the booze has been flowing) and I decided it was time to leave. I hailed a cab for my friend and myself, and got us home at quite a reasonable hour. We had both had a few drinks, but nothing excessive. My friend seemed her normal self, just a bit inebriated. The trouble began the next day, though, when I called her and she revealed she could not remember the evening. She remembered dinner, and the first part at the pub - but after that, nothing. She also felt quite sick, not sick in a hungover-kind of way but different. And that's when it occurred to us. Could she have been drugged?

People, I have been trying ever since then to get a grasp on the issue of the use of "date rape" drugs like Rohypnol, GHB, and Ketamine. I've searched the net, and spoken to three different RCMP officers. What I've discovered troubles me, because what I've learned is that no one really knows the prevalence of these drugs in Alberta, let alone right here in Fort Mac. They have found GHB here in the city, that is certain, and in other parts of Alberta. The problem, though, is that after 6-12 hours these drugs are undetectable and thus proof is hard to find. The other issue is that most women don't report suspected incidents of being drugged (or, as the RCMP call it officially "the administration of a noxious substance"). They don't report it if they weren't assaulted when they think they were drugged - and sadly they often don't report it even if they were assaulted.

What this means is that a lot of the evidence is anecdotal. Since that evening with my friend I can't even count the number of local women who have told her or I that they think it's happened to them, too. I've heard stories of teens using GHB at parties instead of drinking. I've heard speculation that GHB could be very popular here as a recreational drug since it does metabolize so quickly and is virtually undetectable in a matter of hours (providing a way of beating those pesky employee drug tests). I'm one of the most skeptical people you will ever meet. If you can't show me the numbers I have a hard time believing anything - but in this instance I also tend to think that where there is smoke there may well be fire.

So, in the final analysis, what do we know? We know GHB is here (and likely Rohypnol and Ketamine, too, but apparently a derivative of GHB can be manufactured fairly easily which makes it the most likely one to be around). We know that these drugs cause all the symptoms of alcohol intoxication plus amnesia. We know there are a lot of anecdotes about women in the city being the victim of these drugs. We don't know many facts - but I think we know enough to exercise some caution regardless.

Here's what we need to do, people. We need to listen to our our instincts. There is safety in numbers, and therefore attend events with other women. Watch out for each other. Never leave your drink unattended. Don't accept a drink from a stranger. Stay with friends who appear intoxicated. And watch your back.

When I attended the Drug Awareness presentation this week Sgt. Lorne Adamitz provided one quote that I think is brilliant. He said "The farther the departure from reality you take yourself the greater you put yourself at risk". The most common date rape drug used is alcohol, and that's the one we administer to ourselves. We need to take a close look at our own habits, too, and protect ourselves not only from the actions of others (like those who would drug a drink) but also from our own decisions. We need to evaluate whether or not we are putting ourselves into dangerous situations - because it's a risky enough world without putting ourselves right into the middle of the firing line.

Look, I don't know if my friend was drugged, and I don't know if anyone else has been, either. I would suspect that it has happened, and that it does happen, but without hard and firm statistics I cannot state it with certainty. What I can say with certainty, though, is that we have a responsibility to look out for ourselves and for each other, and that's why I chose to write this post. This is my cautionary tale, people. Do with it what you will.

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