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Why were 2 women in Montreal denied toxicological tests after alleged medication?

Written by Javed Iqbal

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

The night before, she and two close friends had gone to a bar in Montreal’s Pointe-Saint-Charles neighborhood. She says her last memory was receiving her third drink. Then it all went black.

She is grateful that her friends got her home safely, but says she was sad when she woke up and remembered a little from the night before.

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

Lea is not her real name. CBC News protects her identity because she fears reprisals for speaking in public. She is one of two women who go public with what happened to them, hoping it will lead to systemic change.

Lea, 27, is convinced she was stunned. She went to an emergency room at the hospital but left when she realized that the wait would be so long that any medication could be flushed out of her system when she consulted a doctor.

Testing for gamma-hydroxybutyrate, or GHB, a drug commonly used to drink beverages, can be a race against time.

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

After leaving the emergency room, she went to an emergency clinic but was told she had to make an appointment and the earliest vacancy was at least a week later.

She called a friend who was familiar with Quebec’s health care system, who told her to go to CLSC Métro, one of the designated Quebec locations that offers medical-social interventions to victims of sexual assault.

Despite arriving within the 12-hour window required to test for GHB at the CLSC Metro, Lea says she was told she was not eligible for a toxicological test because she had not been sexually assaulted.

“I was crushed. I wanted an answer, just to confirm my experience,” she said.

“I was really sorry I could not have that evidence. And there was no way that the perpetrator, whoever committed this crime, would ever be caught.”

On Monday, she filed a complaint with Montreal police.

Not all hospitals can do tests

In a statement, the Quebec Department of Health said testing for GHB is challenging because of the narrow window and also because only specialized laboratories are able to process the tests.

At present, not all hospitals can provide tests. Earlier this month, the Quebec National Assembly passed a proposal calling for tests to be offered at every hospital.

In a statement, the health ministry said anyone who thinks they have ingested a nail polish should be able to go to the emergency room and be tested. It said the government is working on a plan to ensure widespread testing becomes available.

But a spokesman for the ministry would not say whether the current official protocol dictates that a victim must have been sexually assaulted before receiving a toxicological screening.

The Provincial Sexual Assault Intervention Guide, shared with CBC News, mentions drug testing – but only in the context of sexual assault. It does not contain a protocol to test victims for potential drugs if they have not been sexually assaulted.

“It’s very much in the victim’s interest to have access to these tests if she wants to, and it should not be a luxury to have them,” said Marie-Christine Villeneuve, a spokeswoman for the Crime Victim Support Centers.

“We can see that it’s a problem in some areas, in some places, and it should not be.”

No test capacity at the hospital

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

In late May, 31-year-old musician Ariane Brunet was at a concert with close friends. She describes having a beer, then a shot, with friends. She can not remember what happened after that.

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

Medium image of young woman standing outside.
Ariane Brunet, 31, said that after fainting after consuming two drinks, she was taken to Montreal’s Verdun Hospital, but was told that no test to confirm she had been anesthetized was available there. (Dave St-Amant / CBC)

Her friend called an ambulance, which transported Brunet to Verdun Hospital. When she regained consciousness at 4:30 a.m., she asked for a toxicological screening to determine if she had been anesthetized.

She said the doctor told her they did not offer the test and that 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 some proof of what happened, just so I could recover,” said Brunet, who later filed a police report.

In a statement, the regional health authority overseeing Verdun Hospital said it was unable to comment on Brunet’s specific case and could not say why she was not referred to another medical facility that offered toxicological screening.

Brunet shared his story on social media, prompting a public discussion, which led to the National Assembly adopting the proposal to give all Quebec hospitals test capacity.

GHB in circulation

How widespread is drink-spiking in Quebec? It is difficult to measure, but there are indications that practice may be on the rise.

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

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

In April, Montreal police seized 100 gallons of GHB and arrested four people in connection with raids on secret laboratories. At the same time, police in Longueuil seized 375 liters of GHB, which according to police represented about 75,000 doses.

GHB is a drug that can cause extreme drowsiness, reduced mobility and speech, in addition to blackouts and memory loss.

Beverages can be added to several different substances: GHB, MDMA and ketamine among them. Experts also say that alcohol is still the most commonly used drug in drug-facilitated sexual assault, and that the phenomenon of alcohol abuse is severely underreported.

Giving someone a substance without their consent is a crime, described in criminal law as the administration of a harmful substance.

Lea wrote to her MNA, Greg Kelley, saying her experience “reveals a huge public health and safety problem,” and called for toxicological tests to be widely available.

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

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

In April last year in Quebec, only 18 people have been charged with submitting a harmful substance since 2010. However, a spokesman for the provincial prosecutor’s office said that sometimes the Crown will choose to target people accused of drinking-nails with other crimes , such as. attack.

In a statement, Montreal police are urging all victims to come forward, even if they do not have conclusive evidence that they were drugged or know who was responsible.

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Javed Iqbal

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