In school, we are told to avoid all the drugs all the time. We are shown propaganda campaigns that don’t align with reality and therefore lose any potential integrity. Such campaigns lead to the mindset so prevalent in politics and culture today that blames individuals, while addiction and other harmful outcomes remain serious public health concerns.
Let’s be honest, eliminating harm from society is rather unrealistic. We live in a world with a high availability of drugs—legal or illegal—and a world where excessive consumption is just part of the culture. Some people are going to choose to do drugs or engage in unsafe sex; some people are unable to stop.
Current policies that revolve around prohibition and judgement criminalise people for suffering from a disease and consequently perpetuate a cycle of risky behaviours. Not to mention that drug policy and treatment affects marginalised groups disproportionally.
Harm reduction was designed to combat the negative social and physical consequences of various human behaviours, both legal and illegal. It first gained popularity after the threat of HIV spreading from injecting drugs was recognised. The focus was on preventing harm rather than the behaviour, and it proved successful.
Critics argue that tolerating risky behaviours is similar to endorsing them and can even make it easier to engage in them. Perhaps the element of risk is one incentive to stop the behaviour or go into rehabilitation, so maybe the risk should not be mitigated?
The thing is, studies consistently show that supervised consumption facilities — a harm prevention method for opioid users growing in popularity — show promising results. After the first clinic opened in Switzerland in 1986, many followed in Western Europe, Canada, and the United States and have been studied. Drug-related problems have been shown to decrease in site neighbourhoods. There are drops in overdoses, related emergency calls, and risky behaviours leading to HIV or hepatitis C transmissions.
According to the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA), safe consumption sites lead to less public injecting and fewer syringes laying around. The EMCDDA also concluded, upon a comprehensive study, that sites do not result in higher rates of drug-related crime.
Injection sites provide users with sterile injection equipment and always have a trained supervisor ready with naloxone, which can overturn an opioid overdose if need be. Lankenau Institute for Medical Research in Pennsylvania found that as many as 76 drug overdose deaths annually could be prevented in Philadelphia thanks to such sites. If that isn’t enough, the city could save $1.8 million in hospitalisation costs each year.
Supervised consumption sites are just one example of harm prevention techniques. Needle and syringe programs hand out sterile equipment. Opioid substitution therapy replaces an illegal opioid like heroin with a longer acting and less euphoric opiate like methadone or buprenorphine. Heroin prescriptions ensure drug purity and can control dosage. Safe sex programs educate. Even the ‘designated driver’ technique that we all hopefully implement on nights out involving a vehicle constitutes for harm reduction.
It’s important to remember that none of these techniques eliminates all harm and the best way to stay safe is to not engage in these behaviours in the first place. That being said, people deserve to be treated with compassion, and no one should have their dignity stripped away over a decision.
Freshers’ Week at the University of Edinburgh: All that is super important, but perhaps not pertinent to us, students on Freshers’. Harm prevention extends to us too. Here are some things you can do to mitigate or handle the potentially dangerous (or scary, as some drug experiences can be) situation at hand.
Make sure you have the Uber app (or any other cab app) downloaded onto your phone and your payment set up. You don’t want to be putting in your card details while drunk or tripping. In case you find yourself unable to pay, the Students’ Association runs an emergency taxi scheme. You can get a Central Taxi (recognisable by a lightning bolt symbol on the window), give the driver your matriculation number, and pay it later at Potterrow or King’s Building House. You’ll even get an e-mail reminder with instructions. It might be a good idea to share your location with your friends through an app like Facebook Messanger. This will come in handy if you lose your friends or your phone.
Get educated: There are so many resources online as to what you might expect while using a particular drug. Thinking of taking a psychedelic substance like mushrooms, LSD, or DMT? Try watching some PsychedSubstance videos on YouTube or Instagram. The channel is filled with information on what to expect, tripping FAQs, and other useful harm reduction content. There is also Drugslab, which is a federally funded channel from the Netherlands where the cast does drugs in the videos, and you’re able to observe their experiences. Drugslab has, however, been criticised for its casualness and even misinformation. If you’re into the science of drugs erowid.org might be right up your alley. You’ll be able to find information on the drug basics, effects, images (of what it’s supposed to look like), health, law, dose, chemistry, and cultural implications of drugs, from plants to opiates.
Test it before you ingest it: Illegal drugs have a tendency of becoming street drugs (read as impure drugs.) This is just a reality that makes their risk that much higher. Testing your drugs is a way to mitigate that risk. You can buy reliable at home or on-the-go test kits on testkitplus.com. Not sight nor smell nor even the fact that you’ve taken this batch before is as trustworthy to the purity of a drug as a test kit (a lab test is certainly better but also more costly and legally ambiguous is many countries.) They will be shipped to you with discrete packaging and the company provide pretty excellent customer service. Yeah, it’s another expense, but do you really want to be playing risk-reward with your life and mental health without knowing just how significant the risk is?
Know your doses: You can find dosage information on erowid.org that pertains to whichever drug you’re planning on taking.
If you’re looking for a needle exchange or medical advice check out the Edinburgh Drug and Alcohol Partnership’s website to find a list of needle exchanges and advice points in Edinburgh. Only a medical professional is able to give this advice, by the way. Do not seek medical advice from a student newspaper.
You deserve to feel comfortable. Stay safe out there, kids.
Image Credit: Free-Photos via Pixabay