WASHINGTON — If you suspect you've been a victim of drink spiking or sexual assault, local resources are available:
Despite the countless warnings to “watch your drink,” “see it poured,” “never accept a drink from a stranger,” researchers say people slipping drugs into others’ glasses is still a scary problem. But it’s one D.C. woman’s account of what happens after a suspected drink-spiking that’s started a new conversation.
Katherine Abughazaleh is not a mess.
”I’m a very meticulous person,” she said from her tidy NoMa apartment. But the morning of August 14, she woke up to a different story.
“When I walked out of my bedroom and I looked in and I had pots and pans strewn everywhere,” she said. “I cannot stress how much vomit was on my sheets and on myself. Completely out of character for me.”
In this story, an entire chapter from the night before was missing.
“I've been doing a part-time shift as a bartender over at a bar in DuPont that I've been working at for a few years,” Abughazaleh said.
“I got off early. So I thought, 'I'm going to have a drink at a bar nearby me,' she said.“ I had a glass of prosecco and one shot, and I had someone offer to walk me home. And the next thing I knew, I woke up in my bed, covered in vomit. That was it. I have no idea what happened in between,” she said of the night. “I hate thinking about it.”
The prior night’s blackout stretched to a gray, foggy day.
“It was like the worst hangover of my life. And I felt so ashamed. I was like, How did this happen? How did I lose control? The only thing I could think of was I did something stupid,” she said.
When she didn’t get better the next day, and at the suggestion of a friend, she called her doctor and described her symptoms.
“And she was like, 'That doesn't sound like a hangover to me,'” Abughazaleh said. “That sounds like someone slipped something in your drink. That's a very violent reaction.”
In the dark realization, a lightbulb went off:
“I have never, ever heard someone explain what happens after you're drugged.”
Dr. Romas Buivydas didn’t treat Katherine, but the clinical counselor with American Addiction Centers knows her symptoms.
Something may have occurred that should not have occurred,” he said. “It's very hard to track. The symptoms are going to mimic alcohol intoxication.
The National Office on Women’s Health describes effects of a drugged drink as dizziness, speech issues, difficulty moving or controlling muscles, nausea, vomiting, rapid or slow heartbeat, sleepiness, confusion, passing out; and the typical drugs used to spike drinks, sedatives like GHB, ketamine, rohypnol, impact people differently, and pass through the body quickly.
“They won't be detectable in your urine or your blood,” said Buivydas. “You may want to talk to your doctor saying, 'Hey, I think I got roofied.' And a doctor may say, 'Well, how can you tell?' And you can't.”
“It is often hard to prove,” said Dr. Suzanne Swann.
The University of South Carolina psychologist led a survey of more than 6,000 college students from different universities in 2016: about 8% said they believe they had their drink spiked at some point, most never seeing a doctor or reporting it officially. Some people responded they had drugged someone else, often said it was just for fun.
“Maybe people are drinking, maybe people are doing drugs and all of that is going on. And people just sort of don't think about the potential consequences,” she said. “It is more common than most people realize.”
Abugazeleh didn’t file a police report because at that point, she said she wasn’t confident law enforcement could do anything to help her, though she did visit her doctor as soon as she could.
“I had peed out whatever was in my system. I purged it. I didn't have any chemical proof,” she said. “I'd be going to a police station saying, ‘Hey, I just feel really bad. And there's nothing there.’”
But she did share her story on Twitter.
“I thought, you know, I don't know who did this,” she said, “but I knew that if I shared those things, maybe if this happened to a person who read it, that they would go to the hospital instead. And even if it only reached, like, 100 people, that would make it totally worth it.”
Instead, she reached nearly 200,000.
“Thousands of people personally messaged me or reply to me telling me their stories or that they didn't know these things, and that really let go of that shame because it made it feel worthwhile,” Abughazaleh said. “People saying that I didn't know this information or I had kids and I told them about the dangers of this.”
Her phone lit up with responses, and a conversation about why this isn’t discussed more.
“People just don't believe men or women when they talk about this because they say, 'Oh, you were just drinking too much and you want to have an excuse,” she said. “And this is not me giving a free pass to everyone to do whatever they want,” she added, “but if you think something is wrong, trust your gut a bit. I didn't trust myself and I could have gotten the help that I needed that day.”
She’s thankful to have found a lesson her lost hours, with a spotlight on the other side of a spiked drink.
“This can happen to you anytime, anywhere. It's not your fault,” Abughazaleh said. “But you need to know what happens when or if it does happen.”
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