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Needle attacks in nightclubs puzzle the European authorities

PARIS – Across France, more than 300 people have reported being pricked with needles out of the blue at 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 paused his recent show to warn concert-goers of the risk of surprise needle attacks.

It’s not just France: the UK government is investigating a spate of needle spiking there, and police in Belgium and the Netherlands are also investigating isolated cases.

On May 4, 18-year-old Tomas Laux attended a rap concert in Lille, northern France, where he smoked some marijuana and drank some alcohol during the show. When he got home, he told The Associated Press, he felt dizzy and had a headache – and he discovered a weird little skin puncture on his arm and a bruise.

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The next morning, the symptoms didn’t go away and Laux went to his doctor, who advised him to go to the emergency room. Medics confirmed evidence of a needle stick, and Laux was tested for HIV and hepatitis. His results were negative, as with other victims so far.

“I’ve given up going to concerts since it happened,” Laux said.

Hundreds of miles away, Leanne Desnos recounted a similar experience after hitting a club in the southwestern city of Bordeaux in April. Desnos, also 18, passed out the next day feeling dizzy and had hot flashes while at a fast-food restaurant. When she got home, she noticed that she had an injection site on her arm. After seeing testimonies about the mysterious bites on social media, she went to a clinic to be tested for infections. She’s still waiting for results.

People from Paris, Toulouse, Nantes, Nancy, Rennes and other cities across France have reported being pricked with a needle without their knowledge or permission. The targets, who are mostly women, show visible injection marks, often bruises, and report symptoms such as light-headedness.

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According to France’s national police agency, 302 people have filed formal complaints about such needlesticks. Multiple police investigations are ongoing in different regions, but no suspect has been arrested, no needle has been found and the motive remains unclear.

No victim reported sexual assault; One said he was robbed in Grenoble in April, according to Le Monde newspaper.

According to an official with the National Police Agency, two people have tested positive for GHB and may have ingested the drug in a drink. GHB, a powerful anesthetic used by predators trying to sexually abuse or attack victims, can only be detected in urine for 12 hours, the police officer said.

The official and a doctor who is taking a leading role in dealing with the phenomenon expressed doubts that the nightclub’s bites contained GHB, noting that the drug needs to be injected for several seconds to get in with a needle, causing the most victims would notice.

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“We have not found any drugs or substances or objective evidence to indicate … unlawful or criminal administration of any substance. What we fear most is people who get infected with HIV, hepatitis or other contagious diseases through the bites,” said Dr. Emmanuel Puskarczyk, head of the poison control center in the eastern French city of Nancy.

A special procedure was created at the Nancy hospital to optimize the care of the victims. Patients showing symptoms such as drowsiness are treated, and blood and urine samples are kept for five days in case anyone wants to make a report.

“Each case is different. We see traces of injections, but some people have no symptoms. If potential victims have symptoms like malaise or black holes (in their memory), they’re not specific,” Puskarczyk said.

The police officer, who was not entitled to be named publicly under national police policy, said: “At this stage we cannot discuss any specific course of action. There are no similarities between the cases. The only thing that is similar is that people are injected with a needle in a festive context in different places in France.”

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As clubgoers express their fear on social media and media coverage fuels fear, France’s Interior Ministry launched a national awareness campaign this month. The police distribute leaflets to clubgoers and discuss preventive measures with club owners.

In the UK, Parliament published a report in April on drink and needle spiking in pubs and nightclubs, following a surge in such incidents over the past year. Police reported about 1,000 cases of needle injections across the country around October 2021, as droves of students returned to campus after the easing of coronavirus restrictions.

According to the parliamentary report, however, there was a lack of data to assess the seriousness of the problem. It’s not clear if anyone was prosecuted for needle sticks, or how many victims were injected with a drug or other substance.

“Nobody knows how widespread spiking is, whether it’s through drinks, drugs or needles, and nobody knows what prompts perpetrators to do it. Anecdotal evidence suggests the practice is widespread and dangerous,” it said.

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A number of similar incidents have been reported in neighboring Belgium, with people being stabbed with needles at nightclubs, at a football match and during the Belgian Pride parade. Last month, Brussels prosecutors launched two investigations after women complained of being stabbed during the Pride march in central Brussels. March organizers said in a statement they had been briefed on several cases and urged potential victims to seek medical attention.

Back in France, while investigations continue without a culprit being found, rapper Dinos suspended his concert in Strasbourg this week to warn his fans of the risks, insisting “this has to stop.”

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Sylvia Hui in London and Samuel Petrequin in Brussels contributed to this.

Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, transcribed or redistributed without permission.

https://www.local10.com/entertainment/2022/06/02/nightclub-needle-attacks-puzzle-european-authorities/ Needle attacks in nightclubs puzzle the European authorities

Sarah Y. Kim

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