University of Exeter warns students over ‘contaminated’ heroin as drug overdoses rise in area

The university has since faced criticism for advising safe drug practices instead of exclusively condemning use

The University of Exeter has warned students to avoid taking “contaminated” heroin following a recent increase in drug overdoses in the Falmouth and Penryn area.

Last Friday, students at the university’s Penryn campus, which is shared with Falmouth University, received an urgent message cautioning those who use drugs not to sample substances alone and to carry at least two doses of anti-overdose medication at all times. 

The university informed its students in Falmouth that the increase in drug overdoses was as a result of the contamination of  heroin and so-called “street benzos”, a name for drugs often including Valium and Xanax, The Telegraph reports.

Concerns at the university mounted following the Office for National Statistics (ONS) recent publication of data showing that deaths from drug poisonings in the country have reached a 30 year high.

The university stated it does not condone drug use and believes that “not do so is the safest approach”. However, in Friday’s message, the university also outlined measures for affected students to use the “contaminated” drugs more safely.

The university advised students to “ideally avoid using alone, or use in a place you will be found, or use a “buddy app” if there is no alternative”.

It also reminded them to always keep a phone handy, to sample any new drugs in low doses, and, if possible, to ensure the presence of a “sober sitter” nearby.

ONS figures show an increase in drug-related deaths in Cornwall to 56 in 2022, up from 19 in 1993. In 2022, heroin and morphine were the substances most associated with drug poisoning across the south west.

For now, a growing concern are that these street benzos which often only contain a fraction of the chemical advertised, with the rest being made up of unknown substances. As such, the strength of the pills can vary significantly.

Growing warnings indicate that street benzos are being laced with new synthetic opioids like Nitazenes, which the BBC investigated to be “super-strength street drugs.” These opioids were determined to pose an increased risk of overdose.

Students voiced both support and criticism for the University of Exeter, with divided opinions on the institution’s approach to the increase in harmful drug activity.

Law and business student, Alice Gregory, expressed her disappointment to The Telegraph that the authorities had not condemned drug taking more strongly in their message. She said: “I think it’s terribly irresponsible of them [University of Exeter] to not tell students that they should not be taking class-A drugs, and that taking them is completely illegal.”

Readers have since commented on The Telegraph’s article, with one commentator seemingly mocking the University of Exeter students for whom the message was intended: “Cosy middle-class Exeter University warning its students to have some Narcan [used to reverse breathing problems in an opioid overdose] handy and a mate or two with them when they do their weekly shot of H [heroin], funded by mummy and daddy’s stipend.”

Another supported the university’s message and wrote: “There’s a moral responsibility for a university, especially when asked by the police, to convey the message about [adulterated] drugs for safety.”

Continuing to defend the university’s message promoting safe practices, they suggest that a message of condemnation would be ineffective: “I don’t think an anti-drugs message would have much influence on active heroin users.”

A third commenter on the article directly responded to the student interviewed by The Telegraph, saying, “Oh, come on, Alice, I think everyone taking heroin knows it is a Class A substance and completely illegal.”

For those at the University of Exeter affected by substance abuse, the Student Guild recommends seeking guidance and support through various resources: the university’s wellbeing service for general support, the Exeter Drugs Project (EDP) for personalised assistance, Young Minds for informational resources, and Frank, a national organisation that provides open and honest discussions about drug-related issues.

A spokesman for the University of Exeter said: “We were asked by the drug and alcohol support teams in Cornwall to inform our students about a rise in drug contamination and overdoses in the local area.”

“The safety of our students is our top priority and so we followed the advice. We do not condone drug taking and have zero tolerance of any criminal or antisocial behaviour related to drugs, including the supply of drugs.”

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