Three police departments in southern Maine are investigating reports by women who believe they were drugged while they were socializing at bars this past weekend.

Those women are among at least nine to have come forward since Jan. 18 to report to bar staff or police that they felt like they ingested some substance that incapacitated them and made them violently ill.

Police in Portland, Saco and Biddeford are looking into reports of suspected druggings last weekend, including several reports by women who were at Run of the Mill Public House and Brewery in Saco on Saturday.

Portland police responded to the heightened concerns by posting a warning on social media Thursday, advising bar patrons to be vigilant and not accept drinks from strangers or leave drinks unattended while they enjoy the city’s nightlife.

“The most important thing that we’d like to get out (to bar patrons) is to always be with someone and watch each other’s backs,” Portland Police Lt. Robert Martin said. “If you sense something is wrong, get that person to a safe location, do an assessment, get them medical help. If their impairment is not consistent with what they said they drank, what you know they drank, implore the hospital to test for drugs.”

DRUGS CAN MIMIC INEBRIATION

The cluster of reports appears to be unusual, although Portland police say they receive a handful of cases such as these each year.

While motivations aren’t always determined, a handful of drugs with legitimate medical applications have been used maliciously and added to drinks to incapacitate people and, in some cases, assault them. These so-called “date-rape” drugs include rohypnol, a depressant and muscle relaxant; ketamine, a large-animal tranquilizer and short-acting general anesthetic; and GHB, which, in its pharmaceutical form, is used to treat narcolepsy.

The drugs kick in fast and then leave the body. Ketamine takes effect in as little as 5 minutes, and can last only an hour, according to police. Rohypnol, by contrast, can take up to 20 minutes to take effect, but lasts for up to 12 hours.

Investigating incidents of suspected drugging is difficult, police say, because the substances tend to leave the body quickly and the drugs leave victims unable to remember what happened to them. Hospitals and police also have difficulty drawing solid conclusions because someone suffering from an involuntary dosage of a drug often will show symptoms identical to someone who has had too much to drink.

CONFUSION AND EMBARRASSMENT

The first reported incident during the past week happened Friday at the Martinis on Main bar in Biddeford, where a woman said she suddenly blacked out and became ill after consuming two martinis.

Cheryl Morin, 43, of Kennebunkport, said she met up with a group of friends at the Biddeford cocktail lounge and drank one salted caramel martini and a glass of water. After she took just a few sips of her second cocktail, Morin began to blackout, she said in an interview Thursday.

Soon she was vomiting uncontrollably in the bar bathroom. Like others who spoke about their experiences, Morin felt confused, ashamed and embarrassed after the incident for appearing as if she was far more intoxicated than her friends, or that she was somehow acting out of control.

But now she believes the effects were the result of something else.

“I parked my car at 7:30. I took a selfie with my friend at about 8 o’clock. By 9:30, I was obliterated,” Morin said. “I know exactly what I ordered. I know exactly what I drank, and I drank water in between because I don’t like getting drunk. And I’ve never been that sick.”

Morin said she does not remember when friends helped her to an ATM so she could get cash to pay the baby sitter. She also doesn’t remember leaving to go to a second bar.

She does remember sitting on a couch feeling somewhat aware of her situation, but unable to do anything about it.

“I was sitting with my head flopped on the back of the couch, like straight back,” Morin said. “I remember feeling like that, and I just kept saying to myself, ‘Oh my God, you have to pull yourself together. You can’t be like that at a bar.’ But I couldn’t do anything about it.”

Morin took an Uber home and the baby sitter had to help her to bed, and she was asleep by 11:40 p.m. She said she awoke at 3 a.m. and remembers feeling confused because she did not feel hungover. She was fine, though totally embarrassed.

THE CLUSTER OF LOCAL INCIDENTS

After hearing about what happened the following night at Run of the Mill in nearby Saco, Morin said she felt relief and validation, and the load of anxiety she experienced finally lifted.

Another incident occurred in Portland only a few hours after Morin’s episode.

Early Saturday morning, Portland police responded to an incident involving a 24-year-old woman who inexplicably blacked out after she accepted a drink from a stranger at a Fore Street bar, police said.

The woman was violently ill and was transported to a local hospital. Police are working to determine if doctors tested her for the presence of drugs, and if so, what those results showed.

The largest group of reported sickenings occurred Saturday night at the Run of the Mill Public House and Brewery in Saco.

The restaurant was hosting a winter festival that ran from afternoon into the evening and featured an outdoor bar, fire pits and live music inside.

Hundreds of people packed the event, which was standing room only.

As of Thursday, four people reported to Saco police that they felt they were involuntarily drugged during the event, Saco Deputy Police Chief Jack Clements said.

Two others reported their experiences to the bar staff, and more reports were still trickling in from second- and third-hand sources on Thursday, Run of the Mill general manager Rebecca Lemieux said.

The reports from last weekend follow a suspected drugging that occurred Jan. 18 at Bubba’s Sulky Lounge on Portland Street, Portland police said.

In that case, a 35-year-old woman reported that she suddenly blacked out and became incapacitated after a man she didn’t know bought her a drink.

The woman described the situation at length in a post on social media, in which she described a terrifying feeling as if she was paralyzed, and that while aware of her surroundings, she couldn’t speak or move.

Matt Byrne can be contacted at 791-6303 or at:

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Twitter: MattByrnePPH