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Drink-spiking test kits too expensive to hand out ‘readily’ to St Andrews University students

A spate of spiking after nights out was reported in autumn 2021

The head of St Andrews University says students are not being given drink-spiking test kits “readily” from their stockpile because they are too expensive.

Professor Sally Mapstone made the comment to MSPs discussing a spate of drink spiking and reports of spiking by injection across Scotland in autumn last year.

Strips cost about 40p and come in batches of 15, she told a Holyrood committee.

Professor Mapstone said: “When trying to build this culture of support, we find that students like to have testing strips available.”

She continued: “It sounds like a very simple and nice solution, but actually the whole testing strip culture is a complicated one.

“Some only test for one drug which may not be relevant, and some test for a variety but are not widely available and are actually quite expensive within the student community.

“In my own institution we have stockpiled testing kits but we are not just handing them out readily because they are expensive.”

Professor Sally Mapstone, principal and vice-chancellor of St Andrews University

She told MSPs: “It is about 40p a strip and you get them in batches of 15.

“If this is being administered by a students’ association that can add up to quite an expensive bill.”

Call for specific spiking offence

At the meeting on Wednesday, MSPs were also told to look at making spiking a separate offence in law.

Reports of spiking are usually dealt with as a drugging offence or under the Sexual Offences Act (Scotland) 2009.

Kate Wallace, chief executive of Victim Support Scotland, said: “I think the conversation that we’ve been having around people feeling confident to report, feeling confident that they will be believed, and there will be an appropriate response both within a support system, and within the criminal justice system, I do think that looking at [creating a separate offence] would be helpful.”

SNP MSP James Dornan raised concerns about whether or not someone buying their friend a bigger drink than they asked for at a bar would become criminalised if spiking became a specific offence.

This comes after the committee discussed how adding extra alcohol to a drink is the most common form of spiking.

Mike Grieve, chairman of the Night Time Industries Association who voiced his support for legislative change on spiking, said: “I think it’s really important to acknowledge that getting your mate a double if he’s not asked for it actually does cross a line.

“That’s why, in my opinion, there should be legislation around this because otherwise people will always say ‘I was just having a laugh’.”

University taking issue seriously

Professor Clare Peddie, vice-principal of education at the university, said: “We take this issue extremely seriously.

“It’s clear from evidence given to the Scottish Parliament’s education, children and young people committee and the home affairs select committee that this is a deeply worrying and apparently widespread problem which generates a significant concern among students here and at universities around the country.

“We are working very closely with our students’ association and other student groups and have implemented practical measures to protect our students and help them to feel more secure, including ensuring that our student services critical responders are equipped with test strips.

“We have also held helpful discussions at a senior level with Police Scotland, and continue to work closely with our community police officers on steps to support prevention, evidence gathering and detection.”

She added: “St Andrews is one of the first universities in the country to have a team of trained critical responders for student health emergencies, and amongst the first in the UK to equip responders with urine test kits which can establish is someone has been spiked with drugs.

“It is important those urine test kits are available at the right time and in trained hands, which is why we do not hand them out to students.

“It should be stressed that the most common form of spiking is to add additional alcohol to someone’s drink, and there is no test kit for that.”