Massachusetts Senate Passes Bill Allocating $300K for Drink-Spiking Prevention

The money will fund preventative strategies and the bulk-buying of date-rape drug tests for state distribution.

Photo by Markhanna via Getty Images

In a unanimous vote on Wednesday, the Massachusetts State Senate passed a bill allocating $300,000 to address the prevalence of drink-spiking as part of the state’s budget for fiscal year 2024.

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As an amendment filed to the state’s estimated $55.8 billion budget, the legislation will provide funds to the Division of Sexual and Domestic Violence Prevention and Services to develop evidence-based preventative strategies to the rising incidents of reported drink-spikings. It also authorizes the bulk purchasing of date-rape drug tests to be distributed to bars, restaurants, and nightlife venues across the state, and will support the Department of Public Health (DPH) in launching a comprehensive public awareness campaign on the issue.

The bill was introduced by Senator Paul Feeney, who has been advocating for drink-spiking awareness and prevention since earlier this year. In January, the Bristol and Norfolk district official proposed another independent bill (SD.2411) that would, among other things, establish a uniform testing protocol at hospitals for drink spiking victims and create an intervention task force. The bill has been assigned to the Joint Committee on Public Health and is currently awaiting a hearing date, according to Senator Feeney’s team.

In combining this budget amendment with the standalone bill, Senator Feeney said during his remarks on the House floor, “We have an opportunity right here in this budget to make an immediate impact.”

Since last fall, hundreds of individuals in Boston reported incidents of suspected drink spiking to the police and shared their stories on social media. (See “Inside Boston’s Mysterious Drink-Spiking Crisis” from our March 2023 issue.) In 2022, at least 116 incidents involving contaminated, or “roofied,” drinks were reported to the Boston Police Department. As of mid-March this year, 25 incidents were reported.

The crisis has been compounded by a frustrating cycle of unanswered questions. The largest roadblock that drink-spiking victims face is a lack of testing access, as many hospitals in the area deny the administration date-rape drug tests unless they have been sexually assaulted. While the vast majority of incidents in Boston—both officially reported to police and those shared on social media—do not involve a subsequent sexual assault, victims are left without access to testing, with no way of knowing what happened to them or what they were drugged with.

Senator Feeney’s budget bill aims to provide access to testing on-site at bars, clubs, and music venues—preventing the logjam that victims face at hospitals. As Feeney said in his remarks, “They shouldn’t have to play hospital roulette and guess which provider is going to test them for being involuntarily drugged at a nightclub.”

This bill will also allow the DPH to bulk-purchase testing kits, which enable individuals to test themselves the moment they feel the effects of a possible drugging—speeding up response from medical professionals and law enforcement—by placing a drop of their drink on a card that detects the presence of common date-rape drugs like GBH, ketamine, and Rohypnol (or “roofies”). “On site, at venues, if there is a question of someone of whether or not someone believes their drink has been spiked, we have the capabilities and the technologies to test right there,” Feeney said.

Over the past year, legions of local individuals have taken to social media to share their stories—specifically in a Facebook group dedicated to the issue, “Booze in Boston.” As of February 2023, the group had close to 11,000 members; by late May, the number reached at least 13,300. While anecdotal posts describing alleged drink-spiking incidents have slowed to a small trickle from early 2023’s deluge, they haven’t stopped entirely. At least once week, there’s a post from someone detailing a new incident.

Largely, though, “Booze in Boston” members have switched to advocacy: signing petitions and writing to legislators in support of bills like the one that passed this week—all born out of frustration with the state’s response to the crisis. Feeney echoed these concerns in his remarks, saying, “Massachusetts has allowed a patchwork response to this and we have not caught up as a commonwealth to what’s actually happening out there.”

The unanimous passage of this bill—coupled with the appointment of a new night-life czar in Boston, bill SD.2411 awaiting a hearing date, and other action from the licensing board and Office of Economic Opportunity and Inclusion—proactive change seems to be on the horizon. “For our constituents, we want to make sure [that they know] is taking them seriously….and that this Senate, and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts is listening to them,” Feeney said. “This is just one step in part of a larger conversation.”