Fete ’Til You Sweat - But Keep an Eye on Your Drinks!
By Dr. Nicola Ifill, Ed.D, MPH, M.Sc.
The excitement is mounting in my household. In just a matter of days, I will board a flight in San Francisco and fly to my native Trinidad and Tobago to participate in Carnival 2020 activities. Although Carnival Tuesday is the quintessential pinnacle of the celebration, I suspect most Trinbagonians have long since been enjoying the carnival season by attending fetes. I certainly plan to attend a few fetes leading up to Carnival Tuesday and enjoy the season’s vibes (as we Trinbagonians call it) with family and friends.
As I plan for my visit, I stumbled onto a sobering article in the online edition of the Daily Express, one of Trinidad’s newspapers. The February 6, 2020 article, “Cops warn women: Drinks are being spiked,” (Daily Express) reports on a press conference held by the Special Investigations Unit of the Trinidad and Tobago Police Services. The unit spokesperson warned about the risks associated with marijuana and alcohol impairment, as well as the threat to women’s personal safety by the nefarious use of “date-rape” drugs to spike the drinks of unsuspecting victims at parties. The spokesperson posited, “As a preventative measure individuals can purchase ‘test my drink strips’ online. These test strips can be used to determined if your drink has been drugged…”
While the suggestion that testing drinks before consumption is somewhat useful, there is a certain impracticality in the context of Trinidad and Tobago. As far as I am aware, such test strips are not readily available there or in the wider Caribbean region. It is true that they are available online. But access to such strips by Trinbagonians is predicated on the assumption that the user has a credit/debit card with which the strips can be purchased online, or that the user has the technology to make online purchases, as well the tech savvy to navigate the online sources. It is not a bad idea at all. It is however not a pragmatic one.
But there is more. These strips generally test for one or two of the most common date-rape drugs such as flunitrazepam (Rohypnol), gamma-hydroxybutyric acid (GHB), gamma-butyrolactone (GBL), and ketamine. (Source: USHSS). These drugs are often referred to as “club drugs” because they are used at parties and likely at events like our carnival fetes. Moreover, there are anecdotes indicating that the regular content of some alcoholic beverages can prevent accurate results from the strips. Most important, there is the matter of social behavior. In the excitement of a carnival fete I don’t think it’s highly likely that a woman would take out a strip for each drink, take a sample, wait for the test to produce results, then drink. It’s not going to happen.
So what’s a girl to do?
To be clear, women attend carnival fetes all the time and have a safe/enjoyable experience. But given the rise in use of the date-rape drugs, a bit of caution can go a long way in ensuring your safety. Here are three brief tips, apart from testing each drink. These are simple common sense ideas endorsed by law enforcement and public health agencies.
I know that for the vast majority of us Carnival 2020 fetes and parties will be safe and memorable. But we want to make sure that for that small percentage that may be at risk of becoming victims of drugs in their food or drinks, we do all we can to prevent it. Let’s fete and let’s do it safely.
See you on the road!
** Dr. Nicola Ifill is a public health and higher education researcher and consultant living and working in the San Francisco Bay Area, California. She is a native of Trinidad & Tobago, in the Eastern Caribbean.