Throughout the UK, drugs are well ingrained in the fabric of student culture. This isn’t news – the National Students’ Union (NUS) estimates that two in five students are regular drug users, with 56 per cent having taken them at some point in their life. Considering such an established practice, efforts should be made by student unions to place drug testing kits in the hands of the students.
Young people are already exposed to the world of drugs, regardless of whether they partake in it or not; these kits are just one feature of a wider programme aiming to encourage safe drug use. The internet is already saturated with relevant information and advice. The University of Sheffield even published instructions on their website detailing the safest ways to ingest class A drugs, a mature choice signalling an appreciation for student welfare. Unfortunately, the undeserved backlash the university received reveals the uninformed mindset that usually permeates discussions regarding drug use.
Accompanying the controversy surrounding Sheffield’s decision was Buckingham University’s Vice-Chancellor Anthony Seldon’s ongoing crusade against drugs, endeavouring to make the campus “drug-free.” Aghast at the “moral leadership university leaders were providing in colluding in the mass consumption of illegal drugs,” Seldon has merely echoed the tone-deaf attitude towards the reality of student life. Drugs are not synonymous with addiction.
Ironically, Seldon also asserts that since drugs are illegal and we cannot know exactly what’s in them, chemicals that elicit depression and extreme lethargy may be unknowingly consumed. Drug testing kits, rather than the ludicrous introduction of sniffer dogs and unrestricted police presence to Buckingham’s campus in 2016, are a far more appropriate solution.
Initiatives such as Seldon’s may be well-intentioned, yet they are still coated in the unhelpful fire-and-brimstone approach that obstructs effective solutions. While futile campaigns against drug use forge ahead, student well-being is ignored. The simple fact is that students take drugs; this should be accepted rather than vilified. The introduction of drug testing kits would be an effective measure in preventing deaths resulting from poisoned substances. If previously hesitant students thus feel empowered to take drugs, then so be it. The line between drugs such as alcohol and MDMA is purely one of legality, yet that line unfairly discriminates against students – or anyone for that matter – who consume unregulated substances. The same people that demonise drugs can simultaneously neck seven pints, causing universally understood symptoms of headaches, vomiting and a loss of inhibitions, or perhaps more serious long-term problems such as depression and liver disease.
This is not a call for the legalisation of drugs or criminalisation of alcohol, but rather an acknowledgement of the contradictory and sometimes thoughtless attitudes held towards two substances based purely on their legality, something which does not necessarily indicate the safety of a substance.
In 2010, ex-government drugs advisor David Nutt published a report that classified alcohol as a class A drug alongside heroin and crack (substances not commonly used by students), whilst tobacco stood alongside cocaine as a class B. Ecstasy and ketamine, more popular among students, were graded as class C.
If Nutt’s findings are to be accepted, then the danger of drug use lies not in the drug itself, but rather the substances that mix with it. Alternatively, it is the increasing purity of MDMA that threatens unaware students, consuming similar amounts of far more potent and deadly batches. Drug testing kits could detect foreign substances as well as reveal the purities of a drug, encouraging a more responsible approach to stronger variants.
Drug testing kits can be the urgent safety net that students need as well as a stimulus for a more realistic discussion on the place drugs have in our society.
Image: Todd Huffman via flickr.com