Needle spiking: awful reality or urban legend?

Are people really being drugged with needles in Groningen’s nightlife, or is this an urban legend? 

‘No one really knows what’s going on exactly’, says Misha Pchenitchnikov with the Groningen Nachtraad (Night Council) about the alleged new danger in the night scene. The first accounts of needle spiking, which involves people allegedly being injected with drugs, hail from the United Kingdom. 

Between September and January, the UK police received approximately 1,400 reports of partygoers who thought they’d been drugged. Similar reports started surfacing in Australia, Belgium, and France. 

The first case in the Netherlands was reported in March, after which more followed. Most alleged instances of needle spiking happened in Amsterdam and Groningen, but there are reports from other cities, too. 

Injection mark

The Nachtraad created a hotline for victims. Pchenitchnikov won’t say how many reports they received exactly, but there were enough for them to investigate the phenomenon. According to him, the reports have two things in common: someone starts feeling unwell, and they have an injection mark. 

‘But that doesn’t necessarily mean they’ve been needle-spiked’, says Pchenitchnikov. He spoke to a dermatologist about the characteristics of an injection mark. ‘They said it’s impossible to distinguish an injection mark from a bug bite.’

The symptoms of supposed needle spiking, such as fainting, garbled speech, people losing one of their senses or the ability to walk, as well as a general sense of confusion could be due to drugs, but also due to extensive alcohol use. ‘Sometimes, alcohol just hits the body wrong, leading to a completely different experience than what people are used to’, says Pchenitchnikov. ‘But they immediately think they’ve been drugged.’


No one knows which drug is supposedly being used for needle spiking. But it’s definitely not GHB, says Pchenitchnikov. ‘That’s much too thick.’ GHB is so viscous that it can’t be injected into veins, fat, or muscles, even if you were able to express it through the end of a thin needle.

There are other potential drugs that could have been used, says Pchenitchnikov, but so far, nothing suggests they have been. ‘If it’s designer drugs, that complicates the matter’, he says. ‘Some of those are so new that there’s no way to test for them yet.’


What the Nachtraad and the police also can’t figure out is a motive the potential perpetrators might have. ‘We haven’t had a single report that involved a secondary offence, such as robbery or sexual abuse’, says Pchenitchnikov. ‘That’s remarkable. Why would a perpetrator go through the trouble of drugging someone with a needle and then do nothing else?’

Nevertheless, the Nachtraad is taking the reports seriously. Together with the police, they set up a large-scale investigation, looking for needles in nightlife areas and checking security camera footage. This hasn’t led to any results yet, but the investigation is still underway. There also haven’t been any eyewitnesses so far.

Urban legend

Professor of folktales and narrative culture Theo Meder is clear on the matter: needle spiking is an urban legend. ‘It has all the characteristics of an urban legend’, he says; a story that someone made up during a night out and which people started spreading as though it was true. 

That’s not to say that things like these can’t happen, says Meder. Some people are crazy enough to do it. But ten thousand victims spread all across the world? ‘There is no such thing as an injection gang’, he says.

One example he cites is the teenage party that took place in Hasselt in late May, where twenty-two girls went to the first-aid post because they thought they’d been drugged. In all cases, the girls were hyperventilating. They’d become so scared of needle spiking that the stress made them feel ill.


According to Meder, needle spiking belongs to a particular folktale tradition that plays into people’s existing fears. ‘In this case, it’s to warn young women of men on the hunt’, he says. The message appears to be getting through. 

Besides, says Meder, it’s extremely difficult to rid the world of an urban legend. ‘The more you deny it, the more people will start to believe it. The most incredulous, scariest story will take centre stage.’ And while those urban legends never go away completely, they do eventually fade, he says. Eventually, the folktale of needle spiking will be replaced by another story.



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