Cambridge feminist group accused of running ‘drug ring’

The group has given dozens of students access to drugs that they have not been prescribed

A student feminist forum at Cambridge University has been exposed as a platform for students to swap and giveaway prescription drugs to other group members, a Tab Cambridge article revealed.

The Facebook group, ‘CUSU WomCam Self-Care Tips’, has over 1,000 members, and drugs that have been swapped also include contraceptives and acne prevention pills.

The revelations revealed that students have been asking for medicine for reasons such as “feeling anxious about the [GP] appointment” to receive contraceptive pills whilst another “forget that today [was] a bank holiday, aka doctor’s surgery is closed”.

Those who were on the powerful anti-depressants Citalopram and Fluoxetine referred to themselves as ‘Citalobabes’ and ‘Fluoxedarlins’. One student said that she regularly ‘lost’ her medication and got a resupply, before finding them again, and as such had a surplus of pills.

The article, whilst not addressing them, does raise serious questions about the services provided to students struggling with mental health, a problem that has grown in young people at university in recent years and is one of the most fiercely debated issues amongst students.

Some of the anti-depressants being swapped in the group

The investigation also raises multiple ethical questions. Some have pointed out that taking the medication, if you were already prescribed it, out of a box given to you by a friend is not necessarily dangerous and is better than missing a day as it can mess with sleeping patterns and other side-effects.

The very publication of the article has caused outrage at The Tab Cambridge. Many on the Facebook post, since removed, have sided with the WomCam group, lambasting the publication of the article as disregarding the safe space of the group as it’s a closed Facebook group. One commenter on the article claimed:

“People who may have felt nervous or too vulnerable to reach out for help will struggle as a result of this [publication].”

Others were also praising the practice being carried out in the group. There was certainly a mixed reception to the article. One said that: “[the practice] is insanely dangerous. This could have ended so badly”. Another disagreed, saying:

“For too long, the healthcare system has been structurally composed of predominantly male doctors demanding and controlling what substances women must put in their bodies. This IS hegemonic, this IS problematic, this IS sexist and this must go.”

Some of the other drugs being used in the group

The Soton Tab spoke to a student, who wished to remain anonymous but has previously been prescribed anti-depressants, who told us: “Anti-depressants can vary greatly from person to person and can honestly, seriously fuck people up. I’ve seen it put people in hospital before.

“It can be so bad for the mind and these commenters are acting like they’re bloody Pokemon cards. It sets a dangerous precedent for people to suggest that you can get medication without going to the doctors.”

Sam Bailey, the VP Welfare at SUSU, warned against the practices carried out in the group:

“It’s always important to follow advice from your GP or pharmacist when taking medication, especially prescription medication. Every person is different so the potential for an overdose, unknown side effects or a bad reaction with something else you’re taking could be vastly different from someone else taking the same thing.

“If you’re unsure about medication you’re taking or are meant to be taking then you can ask at your local pharmacy or call the NHS 111 non-emergency number for advice.”

Whilst these allegations may be worrying breaches of ‘safe-spaces’ on campus, especially seeing as it appears that the posts were taken without permission of the group, the most worrying aspect to others observers is the drug swapping taking place within the group.

One student even offered to pay cash in return for pills. Taking non-prescribed drugs is an unhealthy and dangerous experiment; the practice is not illegal, but professional medical advice provided to The Tab warned that taking “any prescription drugs that are not intended for you is absolutely dangerous and nonsensical”.

Another question is whether there are any alternatives to this. Speaking to members of the Feminist Society at Southampton University, it was clear that many believe that this system of self-support is the best option available to those who may be too anxious to visit a GP for contraceptives or anti-depressants. Ultimately, this issue is not reflective of the sufferers of mental health but of those in accountable positions and society in general. The provision and support to students with mental health issues has to be stronger so as they don’t resort to this method of accessing drugs.

The difficulty in immediately defending the group is that this system is totally and utterly unverifiable and unaccountable. Any student could go onto the forum and ask for medication, and could be given it without a second thought and no medical assistance. Besides that, deviating in any way from the dosage and type prescription pills, even if they are already being taken, can be hugely damaging, with side-effects differing from person to person. On the other hand, lapses in the continuation of pill intake can also be extremely dangerous. That sufferers of mental health are put in this position is a worrying reflection on the student services at Cambridge.

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