We are living in a transitional time for the conversation around drugs.
With the number of drug-related deaths in the UK having risen by roughly 15% in the last 5 years, it is evident that clinging on to the Thatcher-era “Just Say No” mentality doesn’t work. Governments around the world are beginning to decriminalise some substances, and organisations like The Loop – a not-for-profit who travel to festivals around the UK testing people’s drugs for purity and chemical make-up – have grown in popularity. It certainly feels like the next era of this conversation is being ushered in.
Why I am passionate about this campaign:
I first became aware of drug harm reduction after hearing about drug checking kits. These are small amounts of chemicals that change colour when they come into contact with different substances. The idea of people who use drugs being able to know, in the comfort of their own homes, if they have been mixed with other, more dangerous substances seemed to balance the risk with the reality very well. With an increasing festival culture and, at some festivals, as many as 25% of drugs being mis-sold, could it be that the need to test is higher than ever?
In an age where we are constantly fighting for less heteronormative* and ableist** society, it is upsetting to read that data suggests people within the LGBT+ and disabled communities are more likely to use drugs to self-medicate. A 2018 study by NUS into student drug use found that 2 in 10 disabled students surveyed said they used drugs to medicate an existing physical health condition and twice as many said they used drugs to medicate an existing mental health condition. Moreover, “heterosexual students were less likely than their LGBT+ peers to say that they self-medicate for an existing mental health problem.”
What do I want to do about it?
Here at ARU, I am hoping to launch a campaign looking at harm reduction on our campuses. I would like to be able to provide students with access to free checking kits as well as more practical advice, for example which drugs are potentially fatal when mixed together. This is particularly relevant when looking at the findings of the NUS study which found that around a third of students who use drugs have mixed alcohol with powder cocaine, which can cause a build-up of cocaethylene in the liver. Cocaethylene carries an 18–25 fold increase over cocaine alone in risk of immediate death.
I believe that the war on drugs is already lost. It is time to take new, radical approaches. The best harm reduction method will always be not to use drugs. The university has zero tolerance policy on drugs, and the University has counselling services available to people who need support with this, but unfortunately we have a society where people still want/need to use them.
In a situation like this, the most important thing is to educate people and give them the tools to reduce potential harm or death.
To keep up to date with this Campaign or find out more:
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If anything in this article has affected you, the University run a Counselling and Wellbeing service which you can go to for support and guidance.
To read more about the research this article is based on see below:
*The belief that people fall into distinct and complementary genders (male and female) with natural roles in life. It assumes that heterosexuality is the norm or default sexual orientation, and that sexual and marital relations are most (or only) fitting between people of opposite sex. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heteronormativity)
**Discrimination and social prejudice against people with disabilities. Ableism characterizes persons as defined by their disabilities and as inferior to the non-disabled. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ableism)