Collapse on the dance floor, shortness of breath and no longer connected to the body, one’s own consciousness or reality: According to her own statements, the Australian singer Alison Lewis, 32, experienced this “abstract psychedelic horror trip” involuntarily during a party at the end of May in the Berlin techno club Berghain. “My trip felt like an eternity and I couldn’t remember what had happened before,” the musician describes the experience shortly afterwards on Instagram.

Lewis cannot explain the severity of the symptoms; Her descriptions are reminiscent of the experiences of victims of so-called “spiking”: In order to make them defenseless, knockout drops with sedatives were mixed into their drinks unnoticed. Lewis, however, is convinced that she was injected with a substance. After the night in Berghain, she found a puncture mark on her arm, which she says was confirmed by a doctor. The artist suspects that she has fallen victim to what is known as needle spiking, a phenomenon that has been the subject of increasing reports in recent months and which is causing uncertainty in the club scene. Lewis’ experience report cannot be checked, but reports of similar incidents are also piling up in other countries.

In France, more than 100 cases have been reported since the beginning of the year in which people reported stab wounds after going to clubs or festivals. Those affected reported, among other things, sudden nausea, malaise and dizziness, some spoke of a sudden onset of pain. A festival in Belgium was recently canceled after more than 20 young people there complained of being unwell and found puncture marks.

In Werl in North Rhine-Westphalia, the police launched investigations after two young people reported similar phenomena after visiting a nightclub. A particularly large number of cases were recently registered in Great Britain: According to an investigation by the British police, around 1000 cases of needle spiking were registered from September 2021 to December last year. The majority of the victims were women, and the crime scenes were mostly bars and clubs.

In Germany, no valid data on the phenomenon is available to date. Investigations are difficult because the substances that may have been administered can often only be detected in the blood and urine for a few hours. In addition, victims often suffer from memory gaps, which fuels doubts about the course of events and can promote inhibitions about going to the police.

This also applies to the well-known phenomenon of knockout drops: according to the Berlin police, 123 offenses have been recorded in the past three years in which “knockout agents” were generally used as crimes, resulting in bodily harm, robbery and sexual offences came. The number of unreported cases is likely to be significantly higher. The anesthetic GHB (gamma-hydroxybutyric acid), also known as liquid ecstasy, was found to be the most common. The intoxicant is difficult to dose, which is why dangerous overdoses can quickly occur.

“GHB could also be used for those potentially affected by needle spiking,” says Andrea Piest, an employee at Sonar Berlin and specialist at the Berlin emergency service. But anesthetics such as ketamine and opiates such as fentanyl are also possible. “We’re still pretty much in the dark here,” says Piest, who is consulting with doctors about the phenomenon. In order to inject the funds relatively unnoticed and quickly, the experts consider the use of an epipen – an injector for administering a liquid drug – to be the most likely at the moment. The motive pursued by the alleged perpetrators is unclear. It is obvious that the method should facilitate sexual assaults; those affected are rendered defenseless – similar to conventional “spiking”. But Piest does not rule out a pure demonstration of power or motives for robbery.

“Precisely because the information is so ambiguous, there is currently uncertainty in the club scene,” says Piest. In the past few weeks, the topic has picked up speed, but clarification is difficult. Piest appeals to the personal responsibility of club guests: They should pay attention to people who seem in need of support and, if in doubt, ask staff for support. The addiction counselor firmly advises against aids such as bracelets, which are designed to identify substances in drinks: these do not work with all substances. In addition, the results cannot be clearly interpreted in difficult lighting conditions.

Above all, Piest sees the club operators as responsible: they should be more sensitive to those affected and should not be too quick to throw out intoxicated people. Many clubs follow a zero-tolerance policy, especially when dealing with the intoxicant GBL, which the body converts to the banned GHB that is often contained in knockout drops.

Priest thinks that’s problematic: “Whether it’s someone else’s fault or one’s own overdose, a disoriented person should never just be thrown out the door. Anyone who is afraid of being kicked out of a club because they feel intoxicated does not seek help – it can be dangerous.” Some facilities have already set up good emergency infrastructure, such as rest rooms; others find it difficult to do so.

Singer Lewis also reports that she was initially looked after by paramedics in Berghain, but was then escorted out of the club by the bouncers; and that was before she regained consciousness enough to know where she was. A friend kept her company while she “sat outside confused”. Berghain does not comment on the allegations at WELT’s request.

Expert Piest sees the Berlin Senate as sharing responsibility for expanding prevention programs such as sonar and financial resources in order to make celebrations as low-risk as possible – also apart from new phenomena such as needle spiking. “If the state of Berlin wants fewer drug emergencies and incidents like in Berghain, it needs more support,” says Piest. “Because if the reputation of the Berlin clubs suffers, fewer tourists come – the city would also suffer economic damage.”

“Kick-off Politics” is WELT’s daily news podcast. The most important topic analyzed by WELT editors and the dates of the day. Subscribe to the podcast on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Amazon Music or directly via RSS feed.