The detector is able to pick up traces of the drugs GHB and Ketamine. Picture / Amos Chapple
Simple test for the careful drinker
By ALEXIS GRANT
With a smoking ban beginning next month, some smokers are worried about who will watch their drink when they go outside for a smoke.
New Zealanders will soon be able to test their own beer or cocktail to see if it has been spiked. The drink spike detector, which is already used in Australia and the United States, will be sold in grocery stores and pharmacies by the end of the month.
The test, the size of a credit card, detects the two most common drugs used to spike drinks - GHB, or gamma hydroxybutyrate, and Ketamine - when the tester rubs a drop of the drink on the card.
Esme O'Neill-Dean, marketing director of Despike, the company distributing the product, said it is designed to give the user peace of mind.
"It's something you can carry with you to be able to be proactive," she said.
Her company is also working to produce a de-spiking device that sits inside the neck of alcoholic drink bottles to prevent anything being added. That product, the first of its kind, should be available in New Zealand within the next six months.
In the meantime, bar-goers can use the spike detector if they suspect their drink may have been tampered with.
If bar workers also use the test occasionally, Ms O'Neill-Dean reckons spikers will not be as likely to slip drugs into people's drinks.
Drugs used to spike drinks often have no colour, taste or smell, making them difficult to detect. The drugs can take effect in less than 20 minutes, making the drinker dizzy, sleepy, uninhibited and relaxed.
Ben Stuart, a manager at Globe Bar in Auckland, said it would be pricey for his bar to test drinks, but he would be keen to sell the test to customers.
"It's a good idea as long as it's safe and it works," Mr Stuart said.
No statistics are available about the rate of spikings, but indications are that the practice may be more common after a large number of complaints in Rotorua, Taupo and Hamilton.
In June, police launched a month-long campaign to raise awareness of the problem.
Police spokeswoman Sarah Martin said: "Not all products can pick up everything so still watch your drinks."
The detector cannot be used on wine, fruit-juice drinks or blue drinks.
Catherine Ormerod, a 22-year-old Auckland resident, said she would buy one of the tests in a bar, especially since a friend of hers was drugged recently.
"If it was on the counter and you could buy a drink and then buy one of those ... that would be really cool."
The detector will cost about $11 for a six-test packet.
Safe ways to drink
Tips to avoid getting your drink spiked:
* Buy your own drinks - be cautious of accepting drinks from strangers.
* Keep an eye on your drink and your friends' drinks at all times.
* If you notice a change in the taste or colour of your drink, don't drink it.