Local bars prepare to offer drug-testing kits to patrons as part of new California law (2024)

A new law takes effect in California bars and nightclubs on Monday that requires these places to have drug-testing kits handy — and it's all part of an effort to crack down on drink-spiking. Local business owners are ready to answer the call, while some are scratching their heads due to lack of communication and guidance.

What does the law say?

California law (AB 1013) will require bars and nightclubs that hold a Type 48 alcohol license to offer drug-testing kits to customers and to post clear and visible signs about them. Those signs read: "Don’t get roofied! Drink spiking drug testing kits available here. Ask a staff member for details."

The term roofie refers to a dose of Rohypnol, a trade name for the sedative flunitrazepam, and has come to mean either being drugged against one's will or sedating drugs being slipped into drinks to facilitate sexual assault or other crimes. The National Drug Intelligence Center states people ages 13 to 30 and males are the primary users of Rohypnol.

Type 48 licensesare issued to bars and nightclubs. According to the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control licensing catalog, the license authorizes the sale of beer, wine and distilled spirits for consumption on the premises where sold. Minors are not allowed on the premises, and food service is not required. There are around 2,500 of these Type 48 licenses in California, and 72 in Riverside County, according to Devin Blankenship, spokesperson for the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control.

Local bars prepare to offer drug-testing kits to patrons as part of new California law (1)

"We’re expecting most of our Type 48 license holders to comply in order to protect their customers from the potential of drinks being spiked with date rape drugs," Blankenship said in an email. "Our agents will be checking for compliance for AB 1013 through the course of ABC’s normal administrative inspections, making sure kits are on hand and signage is properly displayed. Failure to do so could result in administrative penalties for licensees."

Bars and nightclubs can offer the drug-testing kits for free or for sale, but it should not exceed a reasonable amount based on the wholesale cost of those devices, Blankenship said. Many wholesale sites offer the kits, which can be test strips, stickers, straws and other devices designed to detect the presence of controlled substances in a drink. ABC is not recommending a specific test or wholesaler to purchase from.

Blankenship said ABC has been "actively notifying Type 48 license holders via direct mail, email campaigns, social media and traditional media campaigns of the upcoming deadline to be in compliance." The information is also available on its website, abc.ca.gov.

What Coachella Valley business owners say

With test kits ordered and the required sign posted in downtown Palm Springs' Bootlegger Tiki, General Manager Sammy Brookes said in an interview last week that the tiki bar was ready for the July 1 deadline.

Brookes ordered kits off of Amazon, which "weren't expensive." To use the test strips, patrons need to pour a drop of their beverage onto the designated test spots and wait for it to dry. If either spot turns a dark blue color, that indicates the drink may have been drugged.

Local bars prepare to offer drug-testing kits to patrons as part of new California law (2)

"I think Bootleggers is probably not as dangerous as a nightclub or anything, but I'm all for having that there for whoever needs it," Brookes said.

She added that she has received "zero guidance" from the state regarding the new law.

"The police came and just gave us a piece of paper that we need to have up, and they told us we could charge for (the drug-testing kits) if we want," she said, though Bootlegger Tiki will likely not charge customers. "I've never had anyone ask for anything like that before, so we'll see I guess how it goes if people know that they're available."

Rob Giesecke, owner of Chill Bar and Reforma in Palm Springs, said he's ready for both of his spots to implement all that the law requires.

"We will make test kits available for a nominal fee; mainly to encourage folks to only take what they need," Giesecke wrote in an email. He did not specify how much a kit would cost, nor what type of test it is.

He added that patrons who are concerned about their safety, especially if going out alone, are encouraged to order an "Angel Shot," which is a well-known signal to bartenders that someone is feeling uncomfortable and needs help.

Local bars prepare to offer drug-testing kits to patrons as part of new California law (3)

But some owners aren't fans of another requirement placed on them, and they say there's not enough guidance being offered to help businesses prepare.

Desert Fox Bar owner Mark Green said he has printed out ABC signs to put in the main room of his Palm Desert spot, and he plans to put one in the women's restroom as well. He is also currently shopping for the proper drug-testing kits, which he said there are too many to choose from, and the department has not given any guidance or recommendations about which kits to choose.

"I'm not crazy about yet another mandated warning sign," Green said in an email, referring to signs that have been required in the past to warn about the dangers of consuming alcohol while pregnant. "While I've heard about drink spiking, I suspect that it's extremely rare, at least here in the Palm Desert area."

Brad Guth runs The Hood Bar and Pizza in Palm Desert, which holds a Type 47 license, one that is issued to restaurants and authorizes the sale of beer, wine and distilled spirits on the premises. He received a letter from ABC stating the law does not apply to his establishment, which he's happy about because he has many questions about the logistics.

"They don't tell you where to get the drug kits, and they don't provide those drug kits nor do they endorse any specific company that sells them. I don't know how an owner would even (know which ones to get)," Guth said.

Additionally, the letter he received was dated June 11 and arrived several days later. If a business owner was away and did not see it in time, that would make it "very hard to comply by July 1," he said, let alone research which test kits to buy and where to get them.

In the past nine years, Guth said The Hood has had two drug-related incidents. During one, it was discovered that a consumer had taken drugs out of their own purse and required medical attention, while another time a patron required Narcan, an overdose reversing spray, which one of his employees administered.

"I feel rather confident that we run a very safe environment and we don't encourage people to leave their drinks alone. If someone does leave their drinks alone, we either take them and put them behind the bar, or we cover them up and we watch," Guth said. "I have a lot of confidence in the way my employees handle potential situations like that, both drug-induced and alcohol-induced."

DAP Health's harm reduction vending machine

Local bars prepare to offer drug-testing kits to patrons as part of new California law (4)

In a similar vein, bar/nightclub Hunters Palm Springs and local nonprofit DAP Health teamed up last year to provide free, lifesaving items to patrons.

In September, DAP Health's harm reduction team installed avending machine stocked with Narcan, STI test kits and fentanyl and "party drug" test strips at Hunters in order to lower overdose and infection rates locally and reduce stigma associated with drug use. Neil Gussardo, the nonprofit's harm reduction supervisor, has been pleased with the number of people taking advantage of the products so far.

Since the vending machine has been up and running, an average of 70 fentanyl test strip kits and 103 boxes of Narcan (which includes two doses per box) are being taken each month.

"I think that is pretty good showing you the machine is being used. It's being used for its initial intended purpose, which is to help folks use drugs more safely," Gussardo said referring to the fentanyl test strip numbers. In regards to the Narcan numbers, he said it's "thrilling" to see that "people are able to protect themselves."

In 2022, the Coachella Valley reported 232 overdose deaths, up from 2021's 202 deaths, according to the Riverside County Overdose Data to Action Program. In 2023 (data is currently available between January and July), there were 123 overdose deaths reported in the valley. Based on the available data, 76 overdoses were caused by methamphetamines and 82 were due to fentanyl (the dataset states the drug categories are not mutually exclusive, meaning more than one drug could have led to an overdose death). The Coachella Valley had the second-highest overdose death rate in the county, behind the northwest region.

Local bars prepare to offer drug-testing kits to patrons as part of new California law (5)

The vending machines are restocked twice a week, and Gussardo said he's had opportunities to chat with people about the products. Recently, a patron shared they'd stopped by to grab supplies because they were going to be partying with friends and wanted to have resources available just in case they were needed.

Other items in the vending machine include a GHB (party drug) Kit, Safer-Snorting Kit and HIV self-testing kits.

Hunters did not return a request for comment.

Currently, drug-testing kits for drink-spiking are not available in the vending machine. Gussardo said the harm reduction team is in the early stages of considering how to best address the new California law.

DAP Health officials shared last year that they were hoping to add more vending machines in the community, particularly in areas where they could be accessed 24/7. Gussardo said funds are available to have at least one more machine, but conversations continue to determine where it'll be located.

Ema Sasic covers entertainment and health in the Coachella Valley. Reach her at ema.sasic@desertsun.com or on Twitter @ema_sasic.

Local bars prepare to offer drug-testing kits to patrons as part of new California law (2024)
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