SLUMPED against railings outside a nightclub, she looked like any other reveller who’d had one too many.
But married mum-of-three Emma Sugrue-Lawrence, 45, was not drunk.
Unknowingly, she had inhaled a paralysing drug slipped into her vape by a complete stranger.
Support worker Emma was on a night out with her pal Vicky Davies and her daughter and other friends in August 2021 at The Grain Store in Wolverhampton when she got talking to a man in his mid-20s at the bar.
She assumed he was a friend of the group and when she went outside to vape he followed her.
“Can I get a drag on that?” he asked Emma.
Seconds later, he started walking away with Emma’s vape in his hand.
When she called after him, he replied: “Hang on, I’m just showing it to my mate.”
Emma, of Telford, Shrops, says: “I didn’t think anything of it because I thought he knew my friend’s daughter.”
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Within minutes of inhaling from her vape, Emma — who says she wasn’t drinking at the time — began to feel unwell.
She recalls: “I started sweating horrendously and felt really disorientated.
“I felt like I had taken drugs.”
She told Vicky she thought she had been spiked, so they raced out of the club, on to the busy high street at around midnight.
Emma says: “I leaned against the railings and my legs just went.
“Then I lost the use of my body.
“I was paralysed, but aware of what was going on.
“It was horrifying.
“Slouched on the floor, I couldn’t open my eyes or even hold my head up.
“I was struggling to breathe because my chin was on my chest.
6.7k spiking incidents in England & Wales in year to May 2023
“I could hear my friend’s panicked voice as she called out to a police officer for help, but they weren’t interested.
“I heard them comment that I must have had too much to drink.
“When Vicky told them I hadn’t been drinking and must have been spiked, they said, ‘If you’re that bothered, then call an ambulance yourself’.”
Emma remembers throwing up and then passing out shortly after.
She woke up in hospital several hours later.
She recalls: “When I woke, I realised I had wet myself, and felt dreadful.
“I overheard hospital staff saying I was ‘another drunk’ — they didn’t believe I’d been spiked.”
Emma, who went to hospital on her own before her pal Vicky arrived, says no blood or urine samples were taken at the hospital and, after several hours, she discharged herself, as she was desperate to get home and feel safe.
She says: “I’m a strong person, but the next day I felt really down and thoughts of what could have happened kept racing through my mind.
“The lad who spiked my vape could have swept me up, taken me out of the club and done God knows what.”
‘My legs just went’
Emma adds: “The manager was contacted but I got no response and neither did my husband, who messaged the club’s Facebook page.”
Dawn Dines, from the charity Stamp Out Spiking, says she is receiving “more and more reports” of vape-spiking.
It comes amid a terrifying rise in the numbers of incidents of all forms of spiking — including of drinks, needles, foods and smoking devices.
According to data from 39 police forces across England and Wales, there were more than 8,500 reported spiking incidents in 2022 — five times higher than 2018.
But the true figure is likely to be much worse.
Dawn says: “Two years ago, we carried out a survey that found 97 per cent of victims don’t report getting spiked.
“So based on these latest figures, there could easily be 100,000 victims every year.
“There is a stigma around this crime.
“People feel ashamed and embarrassed or blame themselves.”
She says vape-spiking is of particular concern due to the sharing culture among vape users.
She says: “It’s normal for people to try each other’s vapes, especially because there are so many different flavours.
“It’s very easy for someone to say ‘Why don’t you try this raspberry vape?’ and, boom, you have been spiked.”
Vapes have reportedly been spiked with drugs including GHB, ketamine and rohypnol, as well as types of synthetic cannabis including Black Mamba and Spice.
Dawn says: “They can either put something on the mouthpiece [of the vape] or take it apart and put something into the liquid.”
Paramedic Chloe Hammerton, 26, says she is still traumatised after being spiked at the Isle of Wight Festival last June.
97% of spiking incidents are not reported to the Police.
She and girlfriend Natasha Ward were queuing for food when she was “duped” into trying a stranger’s vape.
Chloe, from Southampton, says: “Within seconds, I felt like the world went into slow motion, and a tingling sensation ran throughout my body.
“I knew something was seriously wrong and collapsed, unconscious.
“It was as if my body had just shut down and I had no control over it.
“I couldn’t even talk properly — or do anything to help myself.”
Chloe was taken to the festival’s on-site hospital and, as soon as her condition was stable, her mum escorted her home.
She says: “I vomited multiple times over the next ten hours.
“I felt horrendous.
“I was never tested so I don’t know what I was spiked with, but I suspect it was a high level of Spice, THC or GHB.
I lost use of my body, but aware of what was going on. It was horrifying
“The mental trauma was the hardest to overcome because there’s a fear of what could’ve happened.”
Londoner Chad Teixeira, 28, describes being spiked four months ago as “one of the scariest things I’ve ever experienced”.
Minutes after trying a stranger’s vape at an LGBTQ+ nightclub in Soho, he felt “paralytically drunk” and was left unable to move or talk.
He says: “I was crying, throwing up and had no idea what was going on. I couldn’t get my words out and was dribbling — it was horrific.”
Fortunately, friends took him to the club’s security office, where his condition was monitored before a pal escorted him home.
But he says: “I must have been throwing up for three or four hours.
Vital to report incidents
I’ve never felt so unwell in my life and the next day my head was in pain.
“It was like the worst hangover you could ever have.
“I don’t smoke or vape, so it was a stupid decision, that I regret deeply.
“I’m just lucky I didn’t end up dead.”
Chad never reported to the police that he had been spiked, because he thought it “pointless”.
But he has been in contact with the club.
He said: “I’ve spoken to them since the incident and I’ve remained friends with the security staff who helped me when I was taken ill.
“The club has since put in measures to prevent situations like this from recurring.”
But Stamp Out Spiking’s Dawn urges anyone who believes they have been a victim to report it, or tell the charity, who can report it on their behalf.
Worryingly, police data reveals that just one in 400 drug-spiking cases resulted in a criminal charge in 2022, compared with one in 25 in 2018.
Despite this, Dawn insists it is “vital” to report incidents, as it will reveal the true extent of the problem and help campaigners with their calls for a change in the law to make spiking a specific criminal offence.
Currently, it is covered only by other legislation, including the Sexual Offences Act or Offences Against The Person Act.
Dawn says: “Without a specific offence code, it’s virtually impossible for us to collect and record data on how prevalent spiking is.”
Vape-spiking victim Chloe adds: “It’s important that the spiking epidemic is taken more seriously by the Government, staff at venues and responders.”
The mental trauma was the hardest to overcome.
A Home Office spokesperson told us: “Spiking in any form — whether through vape, food or drink, or needle — is already illegal and anyone who commits this crime faces up to ten years behind bars.
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“We have invested £125million to make our streets safer, including initiatives to tackle spiking, campaigns to raise awareness, and training for bar staff.”
- For help and advice, or just more information about spiking, you can see stampoutspiking.org.
What to do if it happens to you
THIS is the advice from charity Stamp Out Smoking.
“If you think you’ve been spiked tell someone you trust and if you need urgent help, call 999 and never leave with someone you don’t know.
If you feel unwell, someone you trust should take you to your nearest A&E.
Tell the medical staff you think you’ve been spiked.
Arrange for a friend or relative to take you home and stay with you until the drugs have fully left your system.
Report it to the police as soon as you can.
They may ask for blood and urine samples.
Most drugs leave the body within 72 hours – date rape drug GHB leaves the body within 12 hours – so it’s important to be tested as soon as possible.
If you’re abroad, get help from a travel rep or local medical services, or ask your hotel to call local police.
The advice from vaping firms to avoid being spiked is: don’t share your vape.
Don’t accept any from strangers. Ensure no one tampers with your vape.
Don’t smoke your vape if you have previously lost it, and always buy them from reputable retailers.”