Spiking: factsheet

Published 21 December 2023

What is spiking?

Spiking is a crime. The law states that:

  • it is a crime to maliciously administer, cause to administer or cause to be taken by any other person any poison or destructive or noxious thing, such as to endanger their life, cause them grievous bodily harm, or intentionally injure, aggrieve, or annoy them

Examples of spiking include:

  • putting alcohol into someone’s drink without their knowledge or permission
  • putting prescription or illegal drugs into someone’s alcoholic or non-alcoholic drink without their knowledge or permission
  • injecting someone with prescription or illegal drugs without their knowledge or permission
  • putting prescription or illegal drugs into someone’s food without their knowledge or permission
  • putting prescription or illegal drugs into someone’s cigarette or vape without their knowledge or permission

This list is not exhaustive and there are other behaviours that may be considered spiking depending on the circumstances of the case.

What happens when someone is spiked

Immediate effects

Spiking can make somebody seriously ill. It can cause:

  • confusion and disorientation
  • nausea and vomiting
  • hallucinations and paranoia
  • poor co-ordination and vision
  • an inability to communicate clearly
  • memory loss and blackouts

One victim told a parliamentary committee:

I was struggling to stand up, I had been sick and I was struggling to speak. A friend got me home where I became paralysed in bed. I remember shaking uncontrollably, my legs are numb and I couldn’t stand up, I could barely lift up my head.[footnote 1]

Spiking can make someone vulnerable to other crimes such as theft, sexual assault or rape.

Longer-term effects

Physical health: if someone is spiked with a needle, it can result in their needing to be tested for a period of time to check for any transmitted diseases.

Mental health: according to a survey of victims and witnesses, even more people experience mental health consequences from being spiked than experience physical health ones. For example, the victim quoted above developed an anxiety condition. Often people need treatment.

Emotional health: there can also be severe emotional consequences. Victims have described embarrassment, shame, loss of confidence, self-blame, and trauma.

Facts and statistics on spiking

Who spiking victims are

In a YouGov poll in December 2022, 10% of women and 5% of men said they had been spiked.

Anybody can be a victim of spiking. But people in some groups are more likely to be victims.

The police received 6,732 reports of spiking in the year ending April 2023, 957 relating to needle spiking.

According to data from the National Police Chiefs’ Council published in December 2022, based on people who have reported that they have been a victim of spiking: 

  • the average age of victims across all types of spiking was 26 years
  • women were the victims in a large majority of all spiking offences (74%)

Where spiking happens

According to data from the National Police Chiefs’ Council, most spiking incidents – 80% – happen in public places, especially places where people go to enjoy themselves at night:

  • almost half of reported incidents happened in a bar
  • after that, night clubs were the most common location

Night clubs are far more likely to be the setting for needle spiking incidents than for drink spiking incidents:

  • 38% of incidents in night clubs involved needles
  • 17% of incidents in night clubs involved alcohol​

More than half of the reported incidents of spiking took place in busy town centres or locations where there was a large number of bars and clubs.​

A small proportion of spiking incidents took place in people’s homes, mostly during house parties. ​

Other places where spiking has been reported have included student unions, restaurants, festivals, carnivals, a garage, and a live music arena. ​

Why people spike others

Often we do not know why. There is a need for more research into why people do this.

Sometimes, people do it ‘for fun’.

Sometimes the motivation is more sinister. Someone spikes another person to make it easier to commit another crime against them. This is often sexual offending (sexual assault or rape) but alternatively this could be theft, physical violence or another type of crime. 

Police data shows that in the year to October 2022, this happened in around 1 in 6 cases, more often with drink spiking and more often when the victim was female.​

More information about spiking, including the motivations of perpetrators, can be found in a report produced by the University of Birmingham and the National Crime Agency: Spiking Prevalence and Motivation.

Laws against spiking

Spiking is a crime in any form – those found to have spiked can face tough sentences.​​

Section 24 of the Offences against the Person Act 1861 is the main legislation relevant to spiking.​​

Spiking is charged and prosecuted under the criminal offences listed in this table.​

Section, Act​ Description Maximum penalty
Section 18​ - Offences against the Person Act 1861 Wounding with intent to do grievous bodily harm Life imprisonment
Section 20​ - Offences against the Person Act 1861 Unlawfully or maliciously wounding, or inflicting any grievous bodily harm​ 5 years’ imprisonment
Section 23​ - Offences against the Person Act 1861 Maliciously administering etc. poison etc. so as to endanger life or inflict grievous bodily harm 10 years’ imprisonment
Section 24​ - Offences against the Person Act 1861 Maliciously administering etc. poison etc. with intent to injure, aggrieve, or annoy that person 5 years’ imprisonment
Section 47 ​- Offences against the Person Act 1861 Assault occasioning bodily harm 5 years’ imprisonment
Section 61 ​- Sexual Offences Act 2003 Administering etc. a substance with intent to engage in a non-consensual sexual activity If convicted in a magistrates’ court, 6 months’ imprisonment or a fine

If convicted in a Crown Court, 10 years’  imprisonment
Section 39​ - Criminal Justice Act 1988 Common assault and battery 6 months’ imprisonment, a fine or both

The police’s commitment to tackling spiking

Tackling spiking is a priority for the police.​

​In 2021, the police established ‘Operation Lester’ to co-ordinate their response to spiking across the country. This included every police force appointing a dedicated person to lead on spiking who meet regularly to share their knowledge about spiking and to determine how to respond to it.

Police forces have:

  • created plans for investigating spiking in their area
  • run training and awareness sessions for their staff and partners
  • created local partnerships to tackle spiking

In addition, the senior police officer who co-ordinates the police’s response across the country to crimes which disproportionately affect women and girls – Deputy Chief Constable Maggie Blyth – requires every force to have an action plan to tackle those crimes. Most forces have included actions to tackle spiking within those plans, given that it can sometimes lead to sexual assault or rape. Some forces include spiking in other strategic documents.

What the police do when spiking is reported

6,732 reports of spiking were made to the police in the year ending April 2023. They follow clear procedures when a report is made.​​

If the victim is comfortable talking about what happened, the police will ask them to go over 4 main things:​

  • what happened?​
  • where did it happen?​
  • when did it happen?​
  • do they know who might have done it?​

​If the police feel it’s appropriate, they will take a non-invasive urine sample. Some drugs leave the body in a very short time (within as little as 12 hours), so it’s important to test as soon as possible. Other drugs remain in the body longer, so testing will be considered up to 7 days after the incident. The test results will come back within 3 weeks and will be discussed with the victim.  ​

​The test done by the police is the most effective way of finding out whether someone has been spiked – it can detect over a hundred different types of drugs.

It is the only official testing route – self-testing kits cannot be relied upon, particularly for building a case against a perpetrator.​