AUSTIN (KXAN) — City staff in Austin are in the early stages of developing a program to distribute alcohol test strips to bars on Sixth and Rainey Streets that would allow patrons to see if their drinks got spiked.
“[It] is an important element to the overall goal of keeping our community safe, particularly considering a spiked drink is often a precursor to a more traumatic event,” according to a spokesperson for the City of Austin’s Development Services Department.
The strips would detect the presence of date rape drugs.
Council Member Zo Qadri said he put forth the idea after people brought concerns to his office about getting drugged downtown. While he’s not connecting spiked drinks to the February death of Jason John, who was last seen on Rainey Street on a night out, he said subsequent conversations with constituents addressed druggings.
“Folks talking about their drinks spiked, having their friends’ drink spiked,” Qadri said. “We want to make sure we’re on top of that.”
The program, which was approved in the latest city budget, allocates $100,000 to purchasing and distributing the test strips. Qadri wants to first focusing on getting the strips to bars on Sixth and Rainey Streets, and hopes to eventually expand the program.
The project is still in its very early stages. City staff are still “working to understand established processes, identifying project partners, and determining potential sources of data to inform the buildout of the alcohol test strip program.”
How an alcohol test strip program worked in West Hollywood
Qadri modeled his idea off of a test strip program that launched in 2022 in West Hollywood.
“We were seeing in our public safety reports, discussion around and reports about drink spiking,” said West Hollywood Mayor Pro Tempore John Erickson, who launched the program in collaboration with the Los Angeles LGBT Center.
In West Hollywood, the city purchased the test strips and held a community outreach event where Erickson – and other advocates – went bar-to-bar talking to managers about the strips and distributing them.
“There were little cards, and people could test their drinks if people needed to or wanted to, and they were out there free on public display,” said Erickson.
West Hollywood public safety leaders told KXAN there currently aren’t numbers to quantify whether the testing strips led to fewer drinks getting spiked, but Erickson said several bars called his office multiple times to request more of the strips.
“It was successful… seeing that type of good response form our bars, they’ll call us and tell us they’re all out,” he said. “Sometimes people take a lot when they’re there, and use them throughout their life in other bars that aren’t in West Hollywood, so it shows the popularity of people wanting to feel safe at any establishment.”
The program was mandatory, but he said all bars in West Hollywood’s “Rainbow District” – where community concerns stemmed from – participated in the program.
He also said he believes the strips might prevent people from spiking drinks in the first place.
“Anything that could be a deterrent to anyone who would want to cause harm to another individual especially around drink spiking is a tool in our toolbox,” he said.