Needlestick attacks in a nightclub intrigue European authorities
PARIS — Across France, more than 300 people have reported being pricked unexpectedly with needles in nightclubs or concerts in recent months. Doctors and several prosecutors are on the case, but no one knows who is doing it or why, and whether the victims were injected with drugs – or any substance at all.
Club owners and police are trying to raise awareness, and one rapper even interrupted his recent show to warn viewers about the risk of surprise needlestick attacks.
It’s not just France: the British government is investigating a wave of “needle sticks” there, and Belgian and Dutch police are also investigating scattered cases.
On May 4, 18-year-old Tomas Laux attended a rap concert in Lille, northern France, where he smoked some marijuana and drank alcohol during the show. When he got home, he told The Associated Press, he felt dizzy and had a headache – and he spotted a strange little skin prick on his arm and a bruise.
The next morning, the symptoms did not disappear and Laux went to his doctor, who advised him to go to the emergency room. Doctors confirmed evidence of a needle stick, and Laux was tested for HIV and hepatitis. His results came back negative, like those of other victims so far.
“I’ve given up on going to concerts since it happened,” Laux said.
Hundreds of kilometers (miles) away, Leanne Desnos recounted a similar experience after visiting a club in the southwestern city of Bordeaux in April. Desnos, also 18, passed out the next day, feeling dizzy and experiencing hot flashes while at a fast food restaurant. When she returned home, she realized that she had an injection mark on her arm. After seeing reports on social media about the mysterious bites, she went to a clinic to get tested for infections. She is still waiting for the results.
Residents of Paris, Toulouse, Nantes, Nancy, Rennes and other cities in France have reported being stuck with a needle without their knowledge or permission. The people targeted, who are mostly women, show visible injection marks, often bruising, and report symptoms like feeling drowsy.
The French national police say 302 people have filed formal complaints for such needle sticks. Several police investigations are underway in different regions, but no suspects have yet been arrested, no needles have been found and the motive remains unclear.
No victims reported sexual assault; one of them said to have been robbed, in Grenoble in April, according to the newspaper Le Monde.
According to a national police official, two people have tested positive for GHB and may have ingested the drug in a drink. GHB, a strong anesthetic used by predators seeking to abuse or sexually assault victims, can only be detected in urine for 12 hours, the police official said.
The official and a doctor who plays a leading role in the fight against the phenomenon expressed doubts that the injections from the nightclub contained GHB, noting that to penetrate using a needle, the drug must be injected for several seconds, which most victims would notice.
“We have found no drugs or substances or objective evidence of…the administration of any substance with illicit or criminal intent. What we fear most are people who contract HIV, hepatitis or any other infectious disease,” said Dr Emmanuel Puskarczyk, head of the poison control center in the city of Nancy, in eastern France. .
At the Nancy hospital, a specific procedure has been created to optimize the care of victims. Patients with symptoms such as dizziness are being treated and blood and urine samples are being kept for five days in case anyone wants to complain.
“Each case is different. You can see injection marks, but some people don’t have symptoms. When potential victims show symptoms like discomfort or black holes (in their memory), they are not specific,” Puskarczyk said.
The police chief, who was not authorized to be named publicly under National Police policy, said: “At this stage we cannot talk about a specific modus operandi. There is no no similarity between the cases. The only similar thing is that people are injected with a needle in a festive context in different places in France.”
With clubbers venting their fear on social media and media coverage fueling anxiety, the French Interior Ministry launched a national awareness campaign this month. The police distribute leaflets to clubbers and discuss prevention measures with club owners.
In the UK, Parliament published a report in April on the consumption of drinks and needles in pubs and nightclubs after a sudden increase in such incidents last year. He said police reported about 1,000 needle-injection cases across the country around October 2021, when many students returned to campuses after coronavirus restrictions eased.
However, the Parliament report said there was a lack of data to judge the seriousness of the problem. It’s unclear if anyone was prosecuted for needle sticks, or how many victims were injected with a drug or other substance.
“No one knows how widespread doping is, whether by alcohol, drugs or needles, and no one knows what drives perpetrators to do it. Anecdotal evidence suggests the practice is widespread and dangerous,” he said.
A series of similar incidents involving people being pricked with needles at nightclubs, a football match and at the Belgian Pride Parade have been reported in neighboring Belgium. Last month, the Brussels public prosecutor’s office opened two investigations following complaints from women who said they were bitten during the Pride parade in downtown Brussels. March organizers said in a statement they had been made aware of several cases and urged potential victims to seek medical attention at hospitals.
Back in France, as investigations continue without anyone being found guilty, rapper Dinos interrupted his concert in Strasbourg this week to warn his fans of the risks, and insisted: “It has to stop “.
Sylvia Hui in London and Samuel Petrequin in Brussels contributed.