Why were 2 Montreal women denied toxicology testing after doping allegations?

On Friday June 17, Léa woke up alone in her bed, disoriented and terrified.

The night before, she and two close friends had gone to a bar in the Pointe-Saint-Charles district of Montreal. She says her last memory was getting her third drink. After that, everything went black.

She is grateful her friends got her home safely, but says she was distraught when she woke up, remembering little of the night before.

“I was upset. I was angry and wanted answers,” she said.

Léa is not her real name. CBC News is protecting its identity because it fears retaliation for speaking publicly. She is one of two women to go public with what happened to them, in hopes it will lead to systemic change.

Lea, 27, is convinced that she was drugged. She went to a hospital emergency room but left, realizing the wait would be so long that all the drugs could be flushed out of her system by the time she saw a doctor.

Testing for gamma hydroxybutyrate, or GHB, a drug commonly used in doping drinks, can be a race against time.

According to the Quebec Ministry of Health, GHB can only be detected in blood for six hours and in urine for up to 12 hours.

After leaving the emergency room, she went to an urgent care clinic, but was told she needed to make an appointment, and the first available appointment was at least a week later. late.

She called a friend familiar with the Quebec health system who told her to go to the CLSC Métro, one of the designated Quebec centers that offers medico-social interventions to victims of sexual assault.

Although she arrived within the 12-hour window required to be tested for GHB, at CLSC Métro, Léa says she was told she was not eligible for a toxicology exam because she had no been sexually assaulted.

“I was devastated. I wanted an answer, just to validate my experience,” she said.

“I was really upset that I couldn’t have this piece of evidence. And there was no way the perpetrator, whoever committed this crime, would ever be caught.”

On Monday, she filed a complaint with the Montreal police.

Not all hospitals can do tests

In a statement, Quebec’s health ministry said testing for GHB is difficult because of the narrow window and also because only specialized labs are able to process the tests.

Currently, not all hospitals can provide tests. Earlier this month, Quebec’s National Assembly passed a motion calling for the tests to be offered in all hospitals.

In a statement, the Department of Health said anyone who thinks they have ingested a fortified drink should be able to go to the emergency room and be tested. He said the government was working on a plan to ensure large-scale testing is available.

But a ministry spokesperson did not say whether current official protocol states that a victim must have been sexually assaulted before undergoing a toxicology test.

The provincial sexual assault response guide, shared with CBC News, mentions drug testing, but only in the context of sexual assault. It does not include a protocol for testing victims for potential drugs if they were not sexually assaulted.

“It is in the interest of the victim to have access to these tests if they wish, and it should not be a luxury to have them,” said Marie-Christine Villeneuve, spokesperson for the Centers d’aide. to victims of crime.

“We can see it’s a problem in certain areas, in certain places, and it shouldn’t be.”

No testing capacity at the hospital

Lea is the second Montreal woman in a month to speak out publicly about being denied access to a drug test.

At the end of May, 31-year-old musician Ariane Brunet went to a concert with close friends. She says she had a beer, then a drink, with friends. She doesn’t remember what happened next.

She says her friends noticed she was behaving strangely. At one point, her friends told her, she was unable to get up from the floor.

Ariane Brunet, 31, said after fainting after consuming two drinks, she was taken to Verdun Hospital in Montreal, but was told no test confirming she had been drugged was not available there. (Dave St-Amant/CBC)

Her friend calls an ambulance which transports Brunet to the Verdun hospital. When she regained consciousness at 4:30 a.m., she requested a toxicology screening to determine if she had been drugged.

She said the doctor told her they didn’t offer the test and no other medical institution in Montreal would either. She is still haunted by not knowing for sure what happened.

“What happened to me? I just needed proof of what happened, just to recover,” said Brunet, who later filed a police report.

In a statement, the regional health authority that oversees Verdun Hospital said it was unable to comment on Brunet’s specific case and could not say why it had not been referred to another medical facility that offered toxicology testing.

Brunet shared her story on social media, which sparked public debate, leading to the National Assembly passing the motion to give all hospitals in Quebec testing capacity.

GHB in circulation

What is the prevalence of alcoholism in Quebec? It’s hard to measure, but there are indications that the practice could be on the rise.

In recent months, women in Trois-Rivières, Gatineau, Sherbrooke, Montreal and Rimouski have spoken in the media about experiences with doped drinks.

The Ministry of Health said it was working on a plan to make GHB testing available in all hospitals in Quebec. (Shutterstock/Oleksandra Naumenko)

In April, Montreal police seized 100 liters of GHB and arrested four people in connection with raids on clandestine laboratories. At the same time, police in Longueuil seized 375 liters of GHB, which police say amounted to approximately 75,000 doses.

GHB is a drug that can cause extreme drowsiness, impaired movement and speech, in addition to fainting and memory loss.

Drinks can be fortified with several different drugs: GHB, MDMA and ketamine. Experts also say that alcohol is still the most common substance used in drug-facilitated sexual assaults and that the phenomenon of alcohol abuse is vastly underreported.

Giving someone a drug without their consent is a crime, described in the Criminal Code as administering a noxious substance.

Lea wrote to her MP, Greg Kelley, saying her experience “reveals a huge public health and safety concern”, and calling for toxicology testing to be widely available.

Kelley spoke to Lea on Wednesday and said he planned to raise the issue with the regional health board and responsible ministers.

“I just want to see how I can help,” he told CBC News. “His experience is heartbreaking in so many ways.”

Last April in Quebec, just 18 people were charged with administering a noxious substance since 2010. However, a spokesperson for the province’s prosecution service said that sometimes the Crown will choose to charge those accused of alcoholism other crimes, such as assault.

In a statement, the Montreal police encourage all victims to come forward, even if they do not have definitive proof that they were drugged or do not know who is responsible.

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