For Justine, this year’s Dawson City Music Festival was “a near-death experience.”
The Dawsonite had her drink drugged in the main tent on Saturday. She’d had one beer at dinner and was drinking an ice tea when it happened.
“My body went kind of paralyzed, so I actually couldn’t move and I could only talk at certain times, but most of the time I had this very disconnected feeling,” she said.
Two weeks earlier at the Atlin Arts and Music Festival, Lauren Tuck had a similar experience.
The Whitehorse local went from having a good time to passing out on a toilet bowl.
“And that’s gross — I’m a person who doesn’t like germs,” she said.
When it happened, Tuck felt like she was slowly losing her senses.
She couldn’t hold a glass of water, she could barely see, she couldn’t eat or drink and her throat was numb.
But she could hear everything loud and clear.
“It was like being in a vegetable body,” she said.
Tuck knew what was happening, because she’d had her drink spiked once before.
“Both my stories have happy endings, because there was support around me all the time, but that’s not the final outcome for a lot of people,” she said.
Justine also had support.
As soon as she started feeling wonky, her boyfriend took her for a walk.
“It was weird because everything was so clear, but kind of in a drug sense,” she said.
“I pinpointed that it must have been my ice tea. And at that point, I have health problems on top of it, and I knew something was going wrong, so I really started losing it and started to feel really sick to my stomach.”
That’s when she and her boyfriend headed to Dawson’s nursing station.
Although Justine told the nurses she’d been drugged, they didn’t pump her stomach.
“The nurse said there wasn’t anything to do. So I was trying to get my partner to help me throw up, because I wanted it out of my system.
“I got really scared and I got the sense I was being separated from my body, and my body went kind of paralyzed. So I actually couldn’t move and I could only talk at certain times, but most of the time I had this very disconnected feeling, like a near-death experience.
“I could move my hand once in awhile, but other than that I was completely paralyzed.”
Because Justine couldn’t respond, the nurses tried certain pain responses.
“I guess it’s protocol, they dig their fist right into your sternum as hard as they can to try and get you out of it, and my body didn’t even flinch, but inside I was screaming because I was totally aware of everything that was going on,” she said.
“My hearing was crystal clear, but I couldn’t control anything else in my body.”
The experience lasted about four to five hours.
Justine wanted the nurses to test for drugs in her system.
“But they just wouldn’t do anything,” she said. “I actually made them take a urine sample, even though they said they couldn’t take any tests.”
“I realize it’s the music festival weekend, and they’re getting a lot of really drunk people coming in, but they treated me really horribly because they didn’t believe me.”
There needs to be more awareness about date-rape drugs, she said. “So people feel safe when they actually do bring their friends in (to get help).”
People seldom report incidents of having their drinks drugged, said victim services manager Sandra Bryce.
So it’s hard to track how common it is, she said.
“Mostly people don’t report to the hospital or the RCMP because they don’t know what happened until after. Plus it comes on so fast and leaves the body so fast, and people are so incapacitated.”
Bryce gets about seven people a year reporting to victim services who feel they’ve been drugged.
But over the last two years, the Whitehorse hospital has only had three patients arrive at emergency suspecting they were drugged, said hospital spokesperson Val Pike.
“Lots of people don’t know it’s happened,” said Tuck.
They just assume they had too much to drink, and get embarrassed and don’t talk about it, she said.
And if something terrible has happened as a result, like a rape, victims may be even more scared to come forward.
But Tuck is not embarrassed by her experiences.
“I want to start a new information campaign,” she said.
“And it’s not just about raising awareness, it’s about changing behaviour.”
Now, when she’s at the bar, Tuck keeps her hand over her drink.
“Because even if you’re holding your drink, you’re not necessarily looking at it all the time,” she said.
And if she forgets and leaves her drink on a table, Tuck dumps it and buys a new one.
There are three main types of drugs used to spike drinks, said Dawson City Women’s Shelter events co-ordinator Jean Hopkins.
There’s Rohypnol, or roofies, a tasteless, colourless and odourless sedative that is prescribed as a sleeping pill in Europe.
GHB, or Gamma hydroxy butyrate, basically made by combining floor stripper and drain cleaner, is another popular date-rate drug. In small quantities its effects mimic intoxication, but in larger amounts, or when mixed with alcohol or other drugs, it causes deep sedation and can kill. Often found in clear liquid form, the drug is very difficult to detect.
Then there’s Kedamine, a cat tranquilizer, that puts victims in a frozen state for a brief period of time.
Other sedative drugs, like Quaaludes and Valium, also show up in drinks.
And there’s a whole series of homemade concoctions that can be lethal, where people just go into a hardware store, find stuff and mix it up, added Bryce.
Hopkins heard from three people who were drugged at Dawson’s music fest.
“I’ve heard a number of complaints, even one from a guy who was drinking from a girlfriend’s glass and doesn’t remember how he got home,” she said.
Bryce also hears stories from men who have been drugged, although the majority of the victims are women, she said.
“Over the last four years, we’ve known it’s a problem in the Yukon, with people putting substances in people’s drinks,” added Bryce, who’s headed up campaigns to raise awareness about the dangers of having drinks spiked.
“People have to take responsibility for their own safety,” she said. “It’s like wearing a seatbelt, or a bike helmet.”
“It’s very concerning if there are people coming forward and telling their stories about how this happened to them, and they don’t remember what happened but had a partner who safely took them home,” said Hopkins.
“Because there are definitely people out there who weren’t taken home by someone they trust.”