Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Drink spiking on the rise

I still remember the "how-to-avoid-date-rape-drugs" lecture from my university frosh week orientation. It went something like this: Buy your own drinks. Never let your drinks out of your sight (or never put them down). Drink with people you trust. If you don't feel "right" (e.g. intoxicated after only one or two drinks), get help ASAP.

It's a standard lecture for first year college and university students, but I wonder if people should have the same lecture before they travel abroad. In the past week, I've read about drink spiking in the news as well as in government travel advice. This crime is on the rise in many countries including Australia, the UK and Indonesia. I already know it's an issue in many Asian and Eastern European countries (it's in the travel advice). Contrary to what you might think, both men and women are at risk because the intent is often robbery or assault.

Chances are drink spiking is an issue in the country where you live, and you're already used to taking some precautions. But are you more at risk when you travel? Yes, for two reasons:

1) Criminals specifically target tourists. Tourists are perceived as being wealthy, and chances are they are carrying cash and travel documents with them.

2) Tourists don't always practice the same level of security as they do at home. They trust fellow travellers and friendly locals, even though both are total strangers. In many places you should be more vigilant, not less.

Where can you find out if drink spiking is a problem? Government travel advice will often include a note about it in the "Crime" or "Safety and Security" sections. It's not hard to find information any government or social service group's websites. If you're looking for a fresh perspective, try Tim Patterson's "Tripping Out On The Road: Drugs, Alcohol And Travel" on Brave New Traveler. The article takes a realistic and non-preachy approach to the issue that emphasizes safety while enjoying yourself.

In the meantime, remember what your frosh leader told you. It's good advice.

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