A new wave of assault is emerging across France, with more than 300 people reportedly being pricked out of with needles at nightclubs or concerts in recent months. Doctors and multiple prosecutors are on the case, but no one knows who’s doing it or why, and whether the victims have been injected with drugs — or indeed any substance at all.
It’s not just France: Britain’s government is studying a spate of “needle spiking” there, and police in Belgium and the Netherlands are investigating scattered cases too.
On May 4, 18-year-old Tomas Laux attended a rap concert in Lille in northern France, where he smoked a bit of marijuana and drank some alcohol during the show. When he came home, he told The Associated Press, he was feeling dizzy and had a headache – and he spotted a strange little skin puncture on his arm and a bruise.
The next morning, the symptoms didn’t disappear and Laux went to his doctor, who advised him to go to the emergency room. Medics confirmed evidence of a needle prick, and Laux was tested for HIV and hepatitis. His results came out negative, like other victims’ so far.
Hundreds of kilometers (miles) away, Leanne Desnos recounted a similar experience after going to a club in the southwest city of Bordeaux in April. Desnos, also 18, passed out the next day, and felt dizzy and had hot flashes while at a fast food restaurant. When she got home, she realized she had an injection mark on her arm. After having seen testimony on social media about the mystery pricks, she went to a clinic to get tested for infections. She is still awaiting results.
People from Paris, Toulouse, Nantes, Nancy, Rennes, and other cities around France have reported being pricked with a needle without their knowledge or permission. The targeted individuals, who are mostly women, show visible marks of injection, often bruises, and report symptoms like feeling groggy.
France’s national police agency says 302 people have filed formal complaints about such needle pricks. Several police investigations are ongoing in different regions, but no suspect has been arrested yet, no needle has been found and the motive remains unclear.
No victims have reported sexual assault; one said he was robbed, in Grenoble in April, according to Le Monde newspaper.
Two people tested positive for GHB, and they might have ingested the drug in a drink, according to an official with the national police agency. GHB, a powerful anesthetic used by predators seeking to sexually abuse or assault victims, can be detected in the urine only for 12 hours, the police official said.
“We didn’t find any drugs or substances or objective proof which attest to … administration of a substance with wrongful or criminal intent. What we fear the most is people contracting HIV, hepatitis or any infectious disease” from the jabs, said Dr. Emmanuel Puskarczyk, head of the poison control center of the eastern French city of Nancy.
With club-goers expressing fear on social networks and media coverage fueling anxiety, the French Interior Ministry launched a national awareness campaign this month. Police are handing out leaflets to clubbers and discussing prevention measures with club owners.
In the U.K., Parliament issued a report in April on drink and needle spiking in pubs and nightclubs after a sudden surge in such incidents last year. It said police reported about 1,000 cases of needle injection across the country around October 2021, when droves of students returned to campuses after coronavirus restrictions eased.
A series of similar incidents involving people pricked with needles at nightclubs, a soccer game and during the Belgian Pride parade have been reported in neighboring Belgium. Last month, the Brussels prosecutor’s office opened two investigations following complaints from women who said they were jabbed during the pride parade in downtown Brussels. Organizers of the march said in a statement they were informed of.