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"I Think Someone Drugged Me"

Advice for people who believe someone has slipped them a drug.

Key points

  • Getting drugged without your knowledge can be terrifying and traumatic. The drugs may cloud your memory for events.
  • If you suspect someone has drugged you, immediately get emergency medical help.
  • At the hospital, ask for a forensic nurse examiner or victim advocate to support you.
  • Request a “tox panel,” which includes testing you for medications and common “date rape drugs.”

Often, it takes a drugging victim a while to get a clear head and figure out what might have happened. This confusion is portrayed movingly in Michaela Cole’s hit HBO series, I May Destroy You.

HBO Productions
Source: HBO Productions

People have been known to administer drugs to strangers in bars, acquaintances at fraternity parties, and even their intimate partners. Usually, the motivation is to commit a sexual assault. But people also drug others to rob, discredit, disable, kidnap or kill them.

The drugs may include pharmaceuticals, street drugs, veterinary medicines, and alcohol. They can be administered in many forms, including liquids, pills, powders, and sprays. They may be mixed with drinks, sprinkled on food, substituted for other drugs, or injected without someone’s consent in a practice called “needle spiking.

If you are losing consciousness or feeling extremely ill, get somewhere to call 911 immediately. Tell the dispatcher about your suspicions and make sure you are safe.

If you believe you might have been drugged within the last 24-48 hours but are no longer feeling the acute effects, head to an equipped emergency room as soon you can. Do an Internet search, call the police, your local domestic violence agency, or your local hospital to find out where you can go for a forensic examination, often called a “sexual assault exam.”

Even if you have not been sexually assaulted, this emergency room is likely to have the knowledge and equipment to conduct a screen for drugging. Not all emergency rooms are equipped to handle sexual assaults or drugging. Ask for a forensic nurse examiner or victim advocate to support you; they can make sure you are treated respectfully in the hospital.

Request a “tox panel,” which includes medications and some “date rape drugs.” (This unfortunate term refers to several drugs that are commonly used to make a person lose consciousness and memory for events). Most sexual assault kits include materials to test for substances, but the medical staff may not use them unless you mention that you think you were drugged. Let the Emergency Room staff know if you have an idea what drug might have been used.

If your exam occurs beyond 24-48 hours after the drugging, the substances will no longer appear in your blood or urine. It may still be possible to test for certain drugs through a hair sample taken 14 to 90 days after the incident–but this is more complicated and may be harder to obtain unless you work closely with the police.

You should never be charged for a sexual assault exam. If you are not notifying the police, check with your doctor or the hospital to make sure there is no charge for the drug tests.

Some states require medical providers to report all sexual assaults and/or domestic violence—what happened to you may or may not fall into this category. Even if this is true in your state, you are not required to speak with law enforcement if you do not want to. In states without mandatory reporting, emergency department staff should ask if you would like them to notify the police.

If you have been drugged and/or sexually assaulted but do not want to identify the abuser, you can track the kit anonymously while you consider your options. It's important to get a kit processed even if you do not intend to follow through with the police.

You may change your mind at a later point when you feel safer or if you learn about other crimes this person has committed. The rape kit/tox panel establishes a chain of custody for evidence and preserves evidence that otherwise would rapidly deteriorate if not collected, analyzed, and documented.

Most importantly, if you believe you are being drugged or have been drugged by someone who still has access to you, get yourself to safety. Contact your local domestic violence agency and make a safety plan with an advocate. Be sure to tell them about your suspicions around drugging.

If you find pills, syringes, or anything else suspicious, take photos of them where you found them and store the images somewhere safe while you get yourself to safety.

If you are a professional in the field, routinely ask the sexual assault and domestic abuse victim-survivors you meet if they believe someone gave them drugs without their knowledge. If you work with abusers, ask them if they have used drugs to control another person.

Getting drugged without consent makes a person vulnerable to other kinds of harm and can result in significant long-term trauma.

To find a therapist, visit the Psychology Today Therapy Directory.

More from Lisa Aronson Fontes Ph.D.
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