USC students and Five Points patrons reported being illegally drugged at Cotton Gin, Pavlov’s Bar and Jake’s of Columbia during the fall 2020 semester.
“We took [shots], and about five, 10 minutes later, I just got this wave come over me. It didn’t really feel like I was drunk. I just felt so weird, and it was a feeling I had never felt before,” a second-year biochemistry student said about her experience in Cotton Gin on Oct. 29.
Columbia Police Department Public Information Officer Jennifer Timmons provided The Daily Gamecock with three incident reports, which were partially redacted to not reveal the names of the victims or the perpetrators, dated Oct. 13, Nov. 14 and Nov. 23, 2020.
In the incident reports, two victims said they felt nauseous, dizzy and then vomited and blacked out. A third victim lost consciousness in Jake’s of Columbia and woke up in the emergency room. At the time the Oct. 13 incident report was filed, the victim was awaiting a blood test to confirm if there was MDMA, a common date-rape drug, in her system.
“The Columbia Police Department (CPD) is conducting an on-going investigation regarding the allegations that are at this time, unsubstantiated,” Timmons said in an email.
Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott aided CPD’s investigation after a parent reached out to him. He said he wants to emphasize that drugging victims will not get in trouble for underage drinking.
"A lot of these cases aren't getting reported to us,” Lott said. “Even if you are in there underage or with a fake ID, if you've been victimized, we still need you to report that because you could be saving somebody else from becoming a victim.”
Nearly 8% of college students said their drinks had been spiked before, according to a 2016 study that had over 6,000 respondents.
The biochemistry student, who did not want her name published, ordered and drank two shots at Cotton Gin's bar. In hindsight, she said she realized she didn't watch her drinks being poured. She wasn’t alone, and friends picked her up within 30 minutes of her first symptoms.
“By the time we had driven from Cotton Gin … [I was] completely limp. I could barely move my arms and legs without help, and I was crying — which I don’t cry, even sober,” the biochemistry student said.
The next day, she looked up the side effects of Rohypnol — which she said fit her experience “exactly.” Rohypnol causes the victim's central nervous system to slow down so much that it can incapacitate people, according to Verywell, a health and wellness website.
On Nov. 6, a public health student, who also asked to remain anonymous, had a similar experience at Cotton Gin. She ordered her usual, a vodka sour.
After talking with her roommate, who was with her the entire night, the public health student believed someone must have slipped a drug into her drink.
"When I came home, I passed out on the couch for like two hours," she said. "I don't remember any of it— I just woke up in my clothes from that night."
At the time The Daily Gamecock spoke to the students, neither victim had notified the police.
Cotton Gin’s Instagram account posted on Jan. 16 that they will supply Drink Safe products.
Drinksafe.com says its Date Rape Drug Test Coasters detect "date rape drugs, including Ketamine and GHB." Customers can put a drop of their drink on two test areas on the coasters, and if the test spot turns blue, the drink is contaminated.
The Daily Gamecock reached out to Cotton Gin for comment on Jan. 18.
Lott encourages victims to report incidents to the police so they have a better chance of stopping perpetrators. He wanted to emphasize there is “no time limit” on when victims can report being drugged.
Victims should call 911 if they need immediate assistance. Otherwise, victims should call CPD's non-emergency line at (803) 252-2911 to report an incident. USC's victim services website is another student resource.
"Don't be embarrassed to report the crime," Lott said. "We can't stop it, we can't do our job without a report being initiated by the victim."