The injection issue: diabetes in a spiking epidemic


Having Type 1 diabetes during this rise in spiking makes my nights out feel even more unsafe

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By Lilli Bagnall

I would say that the topic of women's safety in the UK in recent months has been pretty bleak, with various cases of serious gendered violence preceding the current surge in spiking across the country. Both of these issues have caused national outrage, sparking anxieties among people of all ages and genders who have recently become hesitant to go on nights out for fear of being harmed or drugged by a stranger. The recent reports of spiking by injection have furthered the attention given to spiking and have sparked huge social media attention and prompted a movement of club boycotts by large numbers of the population, including thousands of students.

Here in York, a large number of sports clubs, societies and colleges all supported and joined in with a boycott of York nightclubs on Wednesday 27 October, seeing completely empty dance floors on what would usually be the busiest student night out in our city.

Social media campaigns such as ‘Big Night In’ reached a wide and responsive audience on this issue, encouraging active change within the nightlife industry. Despite these positive steps in the right direction of raising awareness and enacting change in club safety, I have my own deeper fears over being spiked that have the potential to leave me with long term health complications and mental scarring.

"It is imperative that all bar and nightclub personnel are educated to understand why it is necessary for a person with type 1 diabetes to carry needles/pen devices at all times - we need them to stay alive."

Having been type 1 diabetic since the age of 14, I have spent the last eight years of my life learning how to live with an irreversible and life-threatening condition, while also becoming more in tune with my own body to recognise when something isn't quite right. Being insulin-dependent, I have learnt my body's own reactions and signs of a significant drop or rise in my blood sugars, meaning I can respond efficiently to avoid my numbers spiralling any further. If I were to get spiked, my capability to feel changes in my blood sugars and my knowledge of how to react accordingly would no longer be possible, leaving me extremely vulnerable and exposed to numerous dangers out of my control.

As a final year undergraduate student at the University of York, I am fortunate enough to have built up a close group of friends who look out for each other on nights out. But as young women, we are all feeling shaken by the rising number of spiking incidents taking place in our city which appear to be targeted individuals who are living away from home and may not be as aware of their surroundings.

The proposed policies of chemical drink checks, bag/body searches and drink lids are all potential solutions for reducing this epidemic, but I still have my own fears about my future safety on nights out, both at university and elsewhere. Thinking ahead optimistically to a day where spiking is no longer something that directly threatens me, I will still face other potential issues when going to a nightclub or bar... Will my insulin pens be suspected of being injection spiking devices? Will I be asked to hand over the needles necessary for me to stay alive? Will my peers be less understanding if I need to inject insulin while I'm out? Additionally, I foresee further difficulties for young male diabetics, who due to the culture of spiking, will unfortunately be viewed as more 'suspicious' by doormen and members of bar staff.

It is imperative that all bar and nightclub personnel are educated to understand why it is necessary for a person with type 1 diabetes to carry needles/pen devices at all times - we need them to stay alive. The dangers of a lack of education are obvious to individuals such as myself. However, this is something that is not widely discussed outside of the immediate medical community. This lack of understanding rings alarm bells in my mind as a major misjudgement of the daily lived experience of diabetics and others who carry pens.

The highly influential and wide-reaching nature of spiking campaigns is something that could potentially be mirrored in university settings as well as other social environments where awareness of these issues have become increasingly important and pressing. The worries of what should be a fun, social night out for a diabetic have simply been multiplied by reports of both injection and drink spiking, with ongoing concerns for people like myself who must carry medical pens, needles, and other supplies to various events. These worries are demonstrated by fellow diabetics who feel anxieties around the drinking culture that exists within the university community, meaning managing alcohol consumption was already a concern for us prior to the added threat of spiking.

It is my view that there is power in numbers. I hope that, following the arranged boycotts of club nights, establishments will be pushed to remedy the rise of spiking cases. I believe they should do so by contributing to the education of both staff and club-goers as to how they might use their roles in protecting not only young diabetics but also the wider public. It is their responsibility to be active bystanders and help bring these spiking cases down, if not eradicate them completely.