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Is there a better way to protect people from having their drinks spiked in bars/clubs?

Image credit: Netflix

Danny Weir
Danny Weir Jan 19, 2022
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I was watching a new Netflix show the other day (Stay Close) and I noticed something really interesting in one of the bar scenes. A female dipped her finger into a drink and her nail varnish changed colour, alerting her to the fact that the drink had been spiked. This immediately got me thinking about all of the different methods available for detecting drink-spiking agents and why am I not more aware of them?
According to a recent YouGov survey, 1 in 9 women say they have experienced having their drink spiked with the figure for men being closer to 1 in 17. Those are pretty staggering figures, I'm sure you'll agree. As someone who has never been spiked (at least as far as I know), I find the concept a little difficult to comprehend and it sent me down a little rabbit hole in search of popular drink- spiking detectors that are available to us now.
A group of students in Miami developed a drinking straw that contains test strips to detect commonly used drink-spiking agents. I really like the idea of partygoers taking responsibility for their own safety and this seems like a very practical solution.
Wristbands/ Spot Testers
A German businesswoman created the Xantus Drinkcheck Band after her friend experienced a traumatic drink-spiking ordeal. She was one of the first to bring the wristband, that can check for drink-spiking, to the market. The wristband requires a couple of drops of a drink and will indicate whether the drink contains anything untoward. Spot testers that work on a similar premise are also readily available to buy these days.
Nail Varnish
In 2018, a nail-tech company called Undercover Colors developed a nail varnish that changes colour when it comes into contact with drink-spiking agents. Despite millions of dollars of investment, for one reason or another, the product never actually made it to market. The technique has been brought to light due to its inclusion in the Netflix show Stay Close and I can imagine that there are a number of companies now trying to develop a similar product.
So which of these methods do you think is the best? Are there other ideas that you can think of? I considered a cocktail stirrer that works in a similar way to the straw or possibly a small sticker that can be stuck to your fingernail instead of varnish (I mostly considered this one for those that don't wear nail varnish).
Or, should we be putting more pressure on venues to provide safer drinking vessels (closed-lid cups) and to prvide better welfare checks for their patrons to ensure that these kinds of crimes are discouraged. I'm interested to hear what you think, especially from females who may have had experience with these products before.
The (dance)floor is yours...




Creative contributions

An accessory you hang into your glass that changes color only when your drink has been spiked

Contrived _voice
Contrived _voice Jan 20, 2022
I think Povilas S has a point there, the testing has to be continuous. I couldn't find any edible indicator but I did find a workable option.
Thought process
The most comon drug used to roofie people is Flunitrazepam which is a really dangerous drug. However it belongs to a group of drugs called Benzodiazepines (BZD)(C9H8N2). several members of that family could also be used as as a substitute for Flunitrazepam.
looking at the group members some things stand out.
  1. The organic rings making them hydrocarbons
  2. The presence of nitrogen on the main ring making them amines.
Alcohol is technicaly a hydrocarbon and so is the drug. The two can be distingished using bromine water which is not a hydrocarbon. Bromine water changes color upon contact with phenols & aromatic amines.
You could place the bromine water in an accessory that is actually a semi permeable membrane that only allows water and organic compounds to pass through it, meaning the bromine water will never seep into your drink.
Once the individual roofies you the drug passes through the membrane and comes into contact with the bromine water changing it's color notifying you of the action.
Below is a list of other chemical indicators in case you know any other drugs and would like to identify them in alcohol.
Qualitative analysis
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Danny Weir
Danny Weir2 years ago
This idea is essentially the same as the straw indicator that was developed by some students in Miami. I think it's probably the most practical of the solutions as its relatively cost-effective and is something that partygoers would be using anyway. It doesn't require any extra equipment or effort to use. As several other ideators have stated, the degree of colour change could be difficult to distinguish in dark bars/clubs and it just might not be obvious enough in different coloured drinks. The science is flawless, but can we not find an even better solution than the straw?
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Make the drink itself a drug indicator

Povilas S
Povilas S Jan 20, 2022
The problem with current indicators in a form of straws, nail polish, or bracelets is that even if you tested your drink once, there's a pretty good chance it still can be spiked later, while you drink it (with the exception, that it's a shot, perhaps, but those are rarely, if ever, spiked, I believe).

A little story to illustrate the problem with current testing:
Imagine two girls take their drinks at the bar, directly from the bartender (so their drinks should be clean), go to the table, sit down and start drinking and talking. Let's suppose those are not their first drinks that evening. Soon two guys approach and start talking to them, they seem nice and friendly and the girls don't mind them joining. The actual intention of the guys is to roofie them. Since the girls are already tipsy, it's relevantly easy for the guys (especially if they're experienced in this) to find the right moment to spike the drinks they have been already drinking.
For example, three of them go outside to smoke, one guy pretends he doesn't and stays to "watch over" the drinks (some bars don't let to take your drink outside). But with the girls being tipsy it's even possible for the guys to put something in their drinks while they are talking with each other and not looking at the glasses (pocket thieves are good at moves like that).

What I want to say is that in order to be truly safe, you'd have to test your drink before each sip, or to constantly look at it between sips (which is not feasible). So the best would be if the drink itself would be turned into a drug indicator.
I'm not sure how feasible is this technically, but theoretically, a liquid could be developed, which one would drip into her/his drink and mix in it (or it would diffuse in the drink by itself after some time). If the drink came to contact with any date-rape-drug from then on, the drink would change colour. So it's a reversed process of testing compared to those currently used.
The liquid to turn the drink into an indicator could be carried in a small bottle, but its' container could also take the form of a bracelet or a pendant with a tiny valve to open and drip a few drops of a test liquid in your glass.
Two main problems with this that I see is that the test liquid would have to be tasteless or almost tasteless not to change the taste of the drink significantly and the second one is that small amounts of test liquid dispersed in a glass of drink might not be enough to identify date-rape drugs.
However, if such a testing method was realized and popularized, this would deter those trying to roofie people, cause it would be easier to catch the one who did it since the drink would change colour immediately.
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Danny Weir
Danny Weir2 years ago
I definitely think that having a method that constantly analyses the drink is necessary, I just have a few concerns about the idea of people adding "things" to their drinks. From an outside perspective, someone adding a few drops of something to a drink could potentially be misconstrued as the actual spiking itself. I believe there could be a taboo around the idea of adding something to your drink too, you wouldn't necessarily want people to see you doing it (possible opportunity for teasing about being "over cautious").
I think our drinking culture (especially in the UK) is partly to blame for having to even discuss this problem in the first place. Drinking and partying are often done to excess and the safety of partygoers has tended to fall into a bit of a grey area between looking after yourself and relying on others (friends, venues etc.) to look after you when you are vulnerable.
We also have to consider how much the colour changes in the drink when an agent is added, the colour that it will change to, the fact that many bars and nightclubs are dark, and the unfortunate idea that when we party we just don't pay all that much attention to our drinks.
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Povilas S
Povilas S2 years ago
Danny Weir The idea is to make a drink change colour so drastically that it would be virtually impossible not to notice it, even if you're drunk (e.g. from red to blue). If you are so wasted not to notice even that, then maybe at least someone around would tell you.
But technically this might be a difficult challenge since different drinks vary greatly in colours. It could perhaps be achieved by using, say, three different liquids for different parts of the colour spectrum - e.g. you use one liquid for drinks ranging from red to yellow, another for drinks from yellow to dark green, and the third one for light blue to purple. The effect of the liquids would simply switch contrasting parts of the spectrum for the difference to be apparent.
Another way is to simply turn any drink black. Drinks that are initially very dark in colour could maybe turn white or foggy.
About the first concern that you raised - it's better to experience a bit of social discomfort than to risk being roofied. If someone suspected you spiking a drink you could simply explain the situation and that it's actually your drink, you have nothing to hide there. Yes, it might cause confusion to others, but since it would be done mostly by girls, this softens the situation.
Actually, the venue itself could serve all its' drinks mixed with testing agents by default, this would definitely deter any date rape freaks, but many people perhaps would not want to drink those knowing they are mixed with something additional, even if there was no taste difference. Society would have to warm up with this first and for that, the situation with drink spiking would have to go way too far first, we're not there yet, perhaps, but better safe than sorry.
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Aashi Agarwal
Aashi Agarwal2 years ago
I really like the idea of having a liquid that can be mixed in your drink to detect the presence of a date rape drug. However, since drinks are of various colors it might be possible that the color change on addition of the said liquid is not prominent enough or does not work for drinks of certain colors. What if the glasses could themselves change color when drugs are added to the glass? The bars would have to replace their existing glasses with these ones to claim that they protect from date rape drug spiking incidents.
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An "all-seeing eye" camera system powered by AI

Darko Savic
Darko Savic Jan 20, 2022
A high-quality video monitoring system in bars/pubs/clubs. The software, powered by AI keeps a close eye on all drinks and anyone who could have come in contact with them.
An easy-to-review log of events video is composed for every person, every drink, and all people who could have spiked it. If anything happens to a person, all clubs would have detailed records of the suspects.
Knowing that things are universally done that way, as soon as someone approaches a person in a club, they have committed to behaving well, or else...
People are already used to and expect there to be video monitoring systems in clubs. So this is basically just AI-powered cataloging. It shouldn't encounter pushback in society.
I go into more details here.
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Danny Weir
Danny Weir2 years ago
This could definitely work, but I fear that it is a bit of a reactive solution rather than proactive. I get the impression that CCTV or your new AI camera would only be used in cases after the deed has been done. This is fine ,of course, for catching the culprits but the punishments would have to be severe to genuinely deter the criminals from these despicable acts.
I agree that there shouldn't be too much push back from most sections of society. However, there will certainly be a small demographic that will see this surveillance as over-the-top and excessive. I'd expect those people to rebel against this system and against the idea that "Big Brother" is even watching them drinking at the bar.
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Darko Savic
Darko Savic2 years ago
Danny Weir There are already security cameras in pretty much any venue where crowds gather.
If a laser pointed at the drink someone just spiked and they were apprehended by a security guard, and everyone saw it, how long would it take for the word to get out?:)
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Danny Weir
Danny Weir2 years ago
Darko Savic Now we're talking! AI guided lasers sound fantastic! As long as everyone was on the same page with the system then this could absolutely work well to not only find but also deter the criminals!
Do you expect this to be quite a costly security enhancement? I think it would require some pretty heavy government susidy for everyone to get on board with it.
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A definite area for improvement

Elle Anthony Jan 20, 2022
I believe there is a responsibility of both the consumers and the drinking establishment in this scenario. While I am typically one to argue that everyone should take responsibility for themselves, we know this cannot always be the case (or at least, it is not always as easy as that).
It would be in the companys' own interests to protect their clientelle from such dangerous behaviour as best they can. I know, through personal experience, that if someone has reported having their drink spiked at a paricular pub or bar near me, it feels less appealing to go there, despite knowing that this misfortune cannot often be blamed on the venue itself.
It would be great to think that venue owners may be agreeable in investing some extra money to provide safer vessels for their drinks in order to protect their supposedly valued customers.
On the flip side, we know that regardless of any measure put in place behind the bar, it can not be wholly insured that spiking will not occur. I love the ideas presented above (particularly the nail varnish one, although perhaps this wouldn't be the most hygenic option!) and feel strongly that more than be done stop stop such occurrences from happening.
It is no-ones intention to go out and get spiked and I can imagine that most people feel fairly confident that they would be able to notice any suspect behaviour. But we all know that when distractions are present - from excitedly greeting a friend to becoming too drunk to see properly! - it is unrealistic to think we can be immune to such actions.
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Danny Weir
Danny Weir2 years ago
I'm happy to get some more female perspectives (after all, it is statistically more likely to negatively affect you) on this, so thanks Elle! Do you think we just need to be better educated in school as to the risks of these sorts of behaviours? Or maybe marketing campaigns led by the government in collaboration with alcohol safety charities. A campaign alongside a fantastic product (I'm still undecided which one I like best) could really help to nail home the ideas we have been discussing here.
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Pocket blood-test alarm device

Darko Savic
Darko Savic Jan 21, 2022
A pocket drug test that automatically calls for help if it detects drugs in your blood.
If you suspect your drink was spiked, insert a finger into the finger-prick cartridge and have it perform a blood test for commonly used date-rape drugs. If positive, the device calls for help and sounds an alarm.
I go into more detail here.
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Personalized glasses with lid

Shubhankar Kulkarni
Shubhankar Kulkarni Jan 22, 2022
When you enter a bar/ club, you are given an empty glass that has a lid that can be opened using a fingerprint scanner. Maybe you pay a deposit at the entry, like a cover charge. Now the glass can only be opened by you while you are at the club. For the drink to flow from the glass, your finger needs to be on the scanner. Once you keep the glass down on the table, it closes automatically. When you need a refill, the glass goes to the counter and only a specific bartender (assigned to you) can refill it for you. Every bartender at the club handles their customers only. This eliminates the chances of another customer spiking your drink. Even if the bartender spikes your drink, it can be traced back. This way, the cameras do not need to focus on every glass in the bar but only on the bartenders. While leaving the bar, you return your glass and take the deposit back.
  1. Spike-safe drinks, at least from other customers.
  2. No one else at the table can drink your drink.
  1. Investment (to buy such not-so-cheap glasses) for the bar
  2. May not be fun to drink from a glass with a lid.
  3. Things like a stirrer could not be used.
  4. Drinks could not be decorated with orange slices or salt on the rim.
  5. Every person holds the same kind of glass (no variety).
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General comments

Michaela D
Michaela D2 years ago
Thank you for raising the subject. This company is developing not only straws but also stirrers, cups, and glasses that change color instantly when the drink is spiked with the date rape drug. They haven't been approved yet, though.
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