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Police offensive to prevent GHB poisoning

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GHB is often found in the form of a translucent liquid, but also sometimes in powder form.

  • Camille Carpentier (View profile)Camille Carpentier

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Quebec police officers are leading an awareness campaign among bar owners. The objective: to try to prevent poisoning, without the victims' knowledge, with GHB, also called the date rape drug. A crime that is still little reported and that bar owners consider a “scourge”.

The duo of police officers crosses the doors of the Ozone, a bar on the Grande Allée. It’s 10 a.m. The place is empty.

Agents from the ACCES alcohol unit of the Quebec City Police Service (SPVQ) came to meet the owner, Émile Lebel, to discuss with him the resources at his disposal to limit the risks of a customer being drugged at his unknowingly in his establishment.

Émile Lebel is attentive and receptive to the police officers' message. He knows the problem of GHB intoxication too well.

It's a scourge that we must manage on a fairly regular basis, he sighs.

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During the pandemic, employees of its security team had to intervene on numerous occasions with intoxicated customers. Even though these events are less frequent today, they still happen. The police, however, reassure the owner: the establishment was not targeted because it is considered problematic. This is just one visit among others.

When they ingest GHB without their knowledge, the victims, mostly young women, lose consciousness inside or outside the establishment, often when leaving the bars. Difficult to know where and when they were drugged.

Despite the presence of a security team and a rigorous search at the entrance to the establishment, Émile Lebel admits that it is difficult to eliminate all risks.

The bars are full, there is movement, there is music. Our teams are very good at anticipating, seeing, talking to each other via walkie-talkie. But once [the clients] are out, it's the feeling of letting someone come home in that state that's difficult, he said.

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Émile Lebel is co-owner of several licensed establishments in Quebec, including the Ozone Grande Allée pub.

It is therefore with relief that he welcomes the initiative police awareness campaign.

It feels good to feel supported there- inside. We do everything we can, but sometimes we need help.

A quote from Émile Lebel, owner of the Ozone Grande-Allée pub

Between now and the end of the awareness campaign, on February 11, around thirty establishments will be visited by SPVQ police officers, who have been mandated by the Ministry of Public Security to carry out this awareness campaign.

Involuntary intoxication is a shared responsibility, says David Poitras, spokesperson for the SPVQ. The goal is for this to no longer happen. It's really about dissuading people from engaging in this behavior, which remains criminal behavior.

Among the resources available to owners bar: provide glass protectors to customers, intervene with a drowsy person and ensure increased surveillance of isolated areas.

At the recommendation of the police, Émile Lebel now wishes to accredit his establishment with the Commande un Angelot program, which will allow him to train his employees free of charge to recognize the symptoms of a person poisoned with GHB.

We don't want to find someone on the ground, passed out. This is what is the most difficult to manage. Getting the ambulance in and all that. So here, we will see it in advance. Hopefully we will be able to do it.

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As part of their awareness campaign, officers from the ACCES alcohol unit of the Quebec City Police Department meet the owner of the bistro l'Atelier Jonathan Olat.

Further on the Grande Allée, the owner of the restaurant L'Atelier is also interested in this training given by the organization Le Collectif social. Even though he has not recorded any cases of GHB poisoning in his establishment, Jonathan Olat wants his team to be ready to intervene.

Whether it's the hostess, the maître d'hôtel, the bartender or the security guard. It's anyone on our team. It's very interesting and important that we can raise awareness through an external person.

In 2023, 23 people who believe they have been poisoned without their knowledge, filed a complaint with the Quebec City Police Department. To date, no suspects have been arrested.

For police officers, it is easier to work in prevention than in repression. Since intoxication is often done without the victim's knowledge and GHB disappears from the body after a few hours, catching offenders is a complex job.

The police can, however, count on new tools, such as substance detection kits, available free of charge in all emergencies in Quebec since last fall. People who suspect they have been drugged, but have not been sexually assaulted, can request this urine test within 48 hours of intoxication.

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The advanced practice nurse at the CHU de Québec, Vanessa Vachon, holds a substance screening kit available in emergency rooms.< /p>

With the consent of these people, the samples are sent to the police, who can in turn have them analyzed in order to accumulate evidence. To date, 13 kits have been transferred to the SPVQ. The samples are still waiting to be analyzed in the laboratory.

Regardless of the delay, the SPVQ invites victims to report.

Even if there is no screening kit, even if the 48-hour deadline is not respected for the screening kit, we invite people to come and file a complaint with the police, insists David Poitras.

  • Camille Carpentier (View profile)Camille CarpentierFollow

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