Universities need to change their attitudes towards drugs

Zero tolerance drugs policies don’t save lives

In Newcastle, a group of students are doing something unheard of. While most of the country’s universities turn a blind eye to drug taking, the Newcastle arm of Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP) are selling drug tester kits for £3, so people can test what is in their drugs. Students are constantly reminded zero tolerance is the only way; recreational drug use is not only forbidden, but seldom talked about.

Their forward thinking campaign, which aims to reduce the harmful effects of drug taking, is crucial now more than ever. Last week a teenager in Manchester died after taking a Mastercard pill at Victoria Warehouse. A further two girls collapsed after taking a Lego pill in the same week. But what if they’d tested what was in their drugs?

Holly Robinson, Director of the Newcastle Branch of SSDP said: “One danger of taking adulterated drugs is that you might not take the correct precautions, as every substance has a different safety profile, if you have no idea of what you are taken you can be at risk because of this.  Also, some substances that are used as adulterants are fatal, including PMA/PMMA which has caused deaths throughout the UK and is sometimes sold as MDMA, our ‘ketamine’ kit can test for this.”

You don’t need to look at these recent cases from Manchester to recognise their efforts as important. Every time someone dies from a “dodgy” pill, there’s little sympathy and no action taken to try and prevent more. Unfortunately, that’s just the way of the law – principle and policy comes before public safety. It’s good to see Newcastle spearheading the change, and it’s time all SUs used their power to do the same. Look at Austria, Holland and Portugal – they’re just a few of the European countries already practising on-site drug testing.

Some people might be uncomfortable with the idea the kits are encouraging illegal drug use. But just because you’re against drugs, doesn’t mean you should be against improving the safety of drug users. For too long there has been a complete rejection of the needs of drug users. As well as criminalising them, we also apparently don’t give a shit about their safety.

Compare these drug kits to condoms. Take a stand against premarital sex for whatever personal or religious qualms you have, but don’t take a stand against condoms and by association, the safety of people who are having sex. We find it easy enough to support condoms and the empowerment of individuals to do whatever they want as long as nobody else is being harmed, so why is it a different story when it comes to drugs? If people are going to take drugs anyway, surely we have a responsibility to make sure they’re doing so in a way that’s as safe as possible.

Because these substances are criminalised there’s currently no way to tell if something you’ve just bought could kill you. Telling people to not take drugs at all hasn’t worked and people are still dying. So drug tester kits are the first step, but only a first step, on a long road to truly ensuring illegal drugs are safe. It’s time for every SU to provide its students with drug tester kits.