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Spiking testing kits: Which ones are available and (how) do they work?

Content warning: This article was included in our ‘Spiking Awareness’ print issue. It might contain some content that readers may be uncomfortable with.

With cases of spiking on the rise, many people are turning to the internet in the hope of buying testing kits to make them feel safe. There are many different types available, but this attempt to summarise the different styles of kits on the market may help those seeking to purchase one.

Testing strips

Check Your Drink’ is one example of a British company that sells small test strips. These detect minimal standard doses of ketamine and GHB. The user drops a small amount of liquid using their finger, a stirrer, or straw on the testing patch, which turn either red or blue if drugs are present.

Testing wristbands

Testing wristbands are similar to testing strips, but come in the form of the wristband, which could help solve the problem of testing kits being another thing to carry around on a night out. An example is the wristbands made by German company ‘Xantus’, who ship to the UK (though this incurs high shipping costs). 

These wristbands only test for GHB, and contain two testing patches per wristband.  If two minutes after dabbing some of your drink on a patch, it turns blue, the drink probably contains GHB.  ‘Xantus’ claims their wristbands also act as a deterrent for potential perpetrators. Some have begun being given out or are available to purchase in British nightclubs.

Urine Tests

These ‘testing cassettes’ detect the presence of certain drugs in someone’s urine. It is worth noting this is unlikely to be useful in preventing spiking, but you can often access this form of testing for free if you choose to raise your case with the police.

They may also soon be used by nightclubs across Manchester and the UK. Sacha Lord has recently announced that his club ‘The Warehouse Project’ will begin to offer on-site urine tests to anyone that believes they have been spiked. He said, “Our medics actually bought kits last week … it’s a little like a pregnancy kit, if I’m being honest. You can take a urine sample and tell exactly what is in that.”

Myth buster: Nail Varnish testers

In 2016, a post went viral that suggested a nail varnish had been developed by a group of students that changed colour when dipped in a drink that contained some drugs commonly used in spiking. This post wasn’t entirely false. A group of four engineering students from North Carolina State University had indeed come up with this idea, and it began to undergo laboratory testing in 2014. The students formed the company ‘Undercover Colours’ to develop the product further, and began to attract investment. However, after using up $1.8 million dollars attempting to further the idea, they changed tack and developed the SipChip. 

The SipChip

This is a small, coin-sized disk that tests for Flunitrazepam (“Roofies”), Alprazolam (Xanax), Diazepam (Valium), Midazolam (Versed), Oxazepam (Serax) and Temazepam (Restoril), six common spiking drugs. If after dropping one drop of liquid on the test, one line appears, your drink has been spiked. If two lines appear, the drink is likely free of these drugs. Barbara Cook, the CEO, claimed that “The SipChip will detect drugs at levels at, or below, the dose a person would feel any physiological effects. SipChip has achieved over 99% in the more than 12,000 devices tested. In the future, we fully intend on incorporating other classes of drugs into the SipChip.”

Testing kits can be a helpful way to help someone discern if their drinks have been spiked. However, they have many issues associated with their use. 

The primary issue is that they only test for a limited range of drugs, which could lead people to a false sense of security about drinks that have been spiked with other drugs. In addition, if these tests ever reached large-scale usage, it is possible that perpetrators would switch to using drugs not yet widely detectable by the kits. Furthermore, it does nothing to protect people from spiking by injection. Although this is a less common problem than drink spiking, it appears to be on the rise.

There is also the issue of practicality. It’s difficult to know if people will even want to carry around testing kits on a night out, and whether they will remember to use them after they have already had a few drinks. In a bar or club, it may also be difficult to carry out the tests properly.

Finally, it places yet more burden on the victim, and could add yet another reason for people to victim-blame if it became widespread. Drink testing could possibly limit the impact of drink spiking, but it cannot solve the problem.

Tags: drink spiking, spiking, spiking injections, spiking test kits

Emma Hattersley

Emma Hattersley is a third year physics student at the University of Manchester. Alongside writing about science, she enjoys music, baking and terrible, made-for-tv films.
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