Ashley Nichols rarely drinks, but she made an exception on a Saturday in late April, rendezvousing with co-workers attending a medical conference at a Quincy hotel.
Nichols, 36, a surgical tech, arrived at the pub at Best Western Adams Inn around 2 p.m., after pulling an extra shift at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. She ordered a cocktail and a plate of nachos to share. She had two more cocktails over the next two and half hours before she and her friends decided to leave. The next thing she remembers is waking up on a gurney, covered in vomit and missing a shoe, her worried husband hovering beside her, cradling their infant son.
Nichols can’t prove it, but she believes her drinks were drugged. Five of her friends also got sick after drinking with her at the pub. Nichols filed a report with Quincy police and said she contacted the hotel’s staff.
“I’ve never blacked out to the point where I go to the hospital, cannot eat, cannot talk, cannot walk. … That’s never happened to me before,” Nichols said. “I’m in my 30s now, but in my 20s, I had my crazy nights. This was utterly different.”
Social media is rife with similar stories, mostly from young women, who suspect their drinks may have been spiked or “roofied” at many of Greater Boston’s most popular bars and nightclubs in recent months. A Facebook group called Booze in Boston has crowdsourced a list of more than 70 bars, clubs, and restaurants from Worcester to Cape Cod where users’ beverages were allegedly drugged.
In response to the firehose of allegations on social media, Boston police issued a community alert last month, urging victims of drink spiking to come forward and report their suspicions to police. Between April 10 and June 4, Boston police received nearly a dozen reports with allegations of drugged drinks at clubs and bars, a Globe public records request shows.
The women who have shared their stories on social media and with the Globe recall drinking no more than they usually do before suddenly losing consciousness and waking up, panicked and disoriented, with little memory of how they ended up at home or in the hospital. Otherwise, those who spoke with the Globe appeared unscathed, with no signs of having been physically or sexually assaulted. Experts say common date rape drugs, like GHB, Rohypnol, and ketamine, are hard to detect, so allegations of drink spiking are almost impossible to prove. But fear is widespread and growing.
“I’m definitely scared. And I’m not just scared; my friends are scared,” said Melanie Hubbard, 25, of Boston, who has been sounding the alarm on TikTok and Facebook about the recent spate of allegations at local bars. “I think about the days I used to go out in college without a care in the world. ... It’s incredible how much that’s changed.”
Those in Boston who’ve filed police reports include several women and a few men, including a male victim who remembers riding back home in a stranger’s car. The stranger told him “they weren’t going to take him home unless he gave them his phone and Venmo account,” the police report said. The victim was taken to his apartment in Somerville, where he and his roommate were robbed.
Barnstable police on Cape Cod issued a similar warning in May after several reports surfaced of patrons at local bars “feeling the effects of possible ‘date rape drugs.’”
In late April, the Boston Licensing Board reviewed four incidents in which women reported getting sick from spiked drinks at local bars but determined that the bars’ staffs did not commit any violations.
Dr. Matthew Mostofi, an emergency medicine physician at Tufts Medical Center, said drink spiking has long been a problem in Boston, but it’s unclear whether cases are rising. Toxicology screens at emergency departments typically don’t test for common date rape drugs. During a criminal investigation, hospitals can send samples to private or forensic laboratories for additional testing, but the results of those screens are often inconclusive because date rape drugs are absorbed and metabolized so quickly.
“There is not a good way to prove or disprove it,” Mostofi said. “One of the reasons people use these drugs ... is because they’re not easily detectable.”
On a Friday night in late May, Delaney Dowdell, 22, went out with three friends to Bell in Hand Tavern in Boston. She said she’d eaten normally that day and had one White Claw before leaving for the bar. Dowdell, a biomedical engineering student at Northeastern University, said she consumed three mixed drinks over four hours, including a tequila pineapple, which she split with a friend. She recalls vomiting on the sidewalk before waking up the next day unsure how she arrived home.
Dowdell took an at-home drug test from CVS that morning but wasn’t surprised when her results came back negative. The friend with whom she shared a tequila pineapple also fell ill. Dowdell filed a police report and alerted management at Bell in Hand, who assured her there was no security footage of her drinks being drugged.
Bell in Hand did not respond to a request for comment. Dowdell, meanwhile, is still shaken.
“I don’t feel comfortable being drunk anymore,” she said. “I will still go out with my friends and drink, but I’m much less likely to allow myself to have that kind of lack of inhibition because I’m worried about what might happen.”
The rash of reports has spurred some local bars and restaurants to take additional steps to protect their clientele. Scholars American Bistro has put up new signs in the restrooms on weekends, urging patrons to inform staff if they suspect they or their friends have been drugged. Scholars is also now offering plastic cups with lids, said general manager Meaghan Waters. The lidded cups have become so popular, the bar plans to use them indefinitely.
“It’s kind of like an invisible monster. We can’t control what people are doing,” Waters said. “All we can control is to give women the tools to keep themselves safe while they’re here, and if something does happen here, create an environment where they feel OK to tell us about it.”
What happened to Nichols was terrifying for her and her husband. When Nichols didn’t respond to texts or calls from her husband, Jeremy, he tracked her down in the emergency room at Carney Hospital in Dorchester.
In a statement to the Globe, Catherine Stevens, general manager of Best Western Adams Inn, said hotel management is cooperating with Quincy police to investigate Nichols’s allegations.
Giri Hotel Management, owner of Best Western Adams Inn, “takes the safety and security of our guests extremely seriously,” Stevens said. “We cannot comment on the specifics of an ongoing investigation, however, Giri Hotel Management is thoroughly committed to ensuring this is exhaustively investigated and will act accordingly once all the facts are known.”
Nichols remains traumatized by the ordeal. She recalls waking up at the Carney and seeing her 18-month-old son in her husband’s arms, staring at her. That memory, she said, will stay with her forever.
“I will tell you right now, I will never, ever again take a drink from anyone, ever,” she said. “I never want to go through that again.”
Deanna Pan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @DDpan.