Let me spin you a yarn.
It was a few years ago, 2014, early summer. I was meeting a large group of friends in Pittsburgh for our annual gathering where we all get together and let loose for the night. It’s fun.
First we met at a restaurant called Gus’s. We all had dinner out on the patio and had a couple drinks with dinner. We were there for a few hours.
The next portion of the night, we moved to a night club down the street. The club is called Belvedere’s Ultra Dive. We were going to see some DJs.
When I walked into the bar, I had had a couple of drinks already. I did not feel very intoxicated, and I planned to have some more. My friend had driven, so drinking and driving was not a concern.
As time passed and the show began, I had a rum and Coke and mingled with friends. Nothing seemed out of place; there were no creepy guys hitting on me or anything that made me feel uncomfortable.
I went to the front bar at the establishment and ordered another rum and Coke. I was by myself at the bar. After I got my drink, I remember setting it on the bar and turning the barstool to people watch. The place was packed, and the bar was full.
I decided to rejoin my friends. I picked up my drink and went to the back part of the club where the music was happening.
I began to drink as I talked to a friend of mine in a section with chairs. I was about halfway through my drink and I started to feel a little odd. I figured the alcohol must be hitting me suddenly. My consciousness began to feel blinky, for lack of a better word. My awareness did not feel constant, but it seemed to be coming in in fragments.
I told my friend I wasn’t feeling well and excused myself to the restroom, not far from where we were sitting. As I walked, there seemed to be a tunnel around me and I started to feel sick.
I entered the bathroom and walked past the attendant and into a stall. I barely felt like I was going to make it when I was walking. My legs felt weak and I was beginning to sweat. I entered the stall, locked the door and proceeded to get sick for several minutes. I felt embarrassed and confused. How did I go from fine to this drunk in one drink? It didn’t make sense.
When I finished and left the stall, I tried to walk to the sinks, but I collapsed on the bathroom floor. My memory from this point on is in pieces. I remember the bathroom attendant hovering over me, then this pretty red haired woman. A few minutes later, the friend I rode there with, Emily, appeared. She put her arm around me and ushered me to a couch behind the man doing the sound or the lights, I can’t remember which.
Everything seemed strange. It felt as if I was having a dream, voices were disembodied and I just was able to lay there. I felt very far away from everything.
The rest of the night, I can’t really remember. I know Emily’s boyfriend had to carry me out of the bar. I woke up in her spare room with a bowl of pho next to me on the night stand and crackers in my bed.
I felt more hung over than I had ever been. I also felt really embarrassed. I must have gotten too drunk and blacked out, I figured. I knew I couldn’t remember much of what happened.
When Emily and I began discussing the events of the night, I realized that I had blacked out basically all of the night after I got sick. It didn’t make sense. I had drunk that much before and been fine. I had eaten before I drank. We began to put it all together.
I had been drugged.
I was still so sick, I ended up staying in Emily’s spare room in Pittsburgh for the next two days. I opted to not go to the hospital or the police. Instead I contacted Belvedere’s and told my story on Facebook Messenger.
“We have a great staff that actually cares about our customers … Lawrenceville has changed a lot over the past couple years and we are dealing with a lot more [expletive] like that than we ever had before,” Belvedere’s replied. “We try to look out for everyone and security empties all abandoned drinks to avoid drugging. Even with top diligence it is sad that it will still happen sometimes. We will have a meeting soon and we will discuss it and keep extra sharp eyes …”
So after this happened, I got on with my life and moved on. I realized I was one of the lucky ones. I knew others who were also drugged and experienced some pretty traumatic outcomes afterwards. I had been safe. I learned to be more careful when I went out and I shared my story with others as a precautionary matter.
A couple of weeks ago, a friend on Facebook shared a post from the bar that got my attention. It was a flier.
“There has been an increase in the past couple months of community members feeling that they have been drugged, and it’s happened at several bars on the east end. We can all combat this [expletive] if we keep an eye out for each other, and continue to empower their friends to share their stories,” their flier read.
It went on to describe the way it feels to be drugged and what to do if a person suspects it happened to them.
Curious about this increase in drugging, I contacted the bar, the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police, and the organization with a phone number listed at the bottom, Pittsburgh Action Against Rape.
The bar never answered me. The police did.
“We have not seen an increase in drink drugging,” they messaged me back.
A woman named Ashley from PAAR also replied.
I’d asked for data about the increase in drink drugging. “I contacted our prevention and victim services department and unfortunately they do not have any data surrounding this. We are working with the liquor control board and a safe bars consortium but they also couldn’t provide much help,” Ashley said.
I find it strange that the police and research agencies didn’t have any data to support the claim of increased drink drugging, and a bit disheartening. After my own experience in the area, I know how easy it is to end up in this situation.
However, I applaud the bar for making it known that it is watching out for customers. If it hadn’t been for the intervening restroom attendant that night, I’m not sure what would have happened.
People need to be aware that drink drugging happens. I posted on Facebook asking how many of my friends had been “roofied” and the response was slightly overwhelming. Both males and females replied with about 20 stories from all over the country. This is out of my friends’ list of about 700 people.
According to research published by the American Psychological Association, there has been scant research into drink drugging. These researchers looked at a sample of 6,064 students at three universities.
“What the researchers found was 462 students (7.8 percent) reported 539 incidents in which they said they had been drugged, and 83 (1.4 percent) said either they had drugged someone, or they knew someone who had drugged another person,” the study said. “These data indicate that drugging is more than simply an urban legend.”
While the hard data is not quite there yet, the anecdotal evidence is abundant. What this probably means is that, like me, many people don’t report when this happens, but they do tell their friends.
People need to know to watch out for drink drugging. Bars need to educate their employees and have people in place to prevent the worst-case scenario, like that restroom attendant that night. Like Belvedere’s and other bars in the area, they need to let it be known this behavior will not fly.
Drink drugging can happen to anyone and until the root of the problem is addressed, only vigilance and awareness on everyone’s part can stop these sick people from hurting others.