More student unions set to offer drug-testing kits at universities, NUS says

'There is a lot more interest in harm reduction now' 

Eleanor Busby
Education Correspondent
Monday 08 October 2018 16:54 BST
More students are being offered testing kits to check what is in their drugs
More students are being offered testing kits to check what is in their drugs

An increasing number of student unions across the country are seeking to introduce drug-testing kits at universities, the National Union of Students (NUS) has revealed.

The NUS is now looking at whether they can send the kits to unions in bulk to make them “more accessible and cheaper” to meet a rise in demand.

Eva Crossan Jory, the NUS vice-president for welfare, told The Independent: “More and more unions are asking about drug-testing kits. So we are trying to make the kits cheaper and more accessible.”

A number of student unions – including Manchester, Newcastle and Sussex – already offer kits so students can test drugs before taking them to determine their toxicity. And more are looking to do the same, but smaller SUs need financial support, Ms Crossan Jory said.

She added: “Student unions are taking it more seriously. And there are a lot more student unions that are looking at ways they can reduce harm and educate their students within the union.”

An NUS survey released earlier this year revealed more than half (56 per cent) of students had tried drugs – and two in five said they currently use drugs.

The findings have prompted more student unions to consider introducing the kits, the NUS says.

“We are definitely trying to gear towards harm reduction. There is a lot more interest in that now. The debate has moved on,” Ms Crossan Jory said.

However one vice-chancellor, Sir Anthony Seldon, of Buckingham University, has taken the opposite approach — reinforcing an attempt to create a drug-free campus by asking students to sign a contract pledging to refrain from ingesting illegal substances.

He said he was aiming to start a "revolution" to make drug-taking "socially unacceptable" – adding that it would be "insane" to allow the often tragic consequences of drug-taking to continue.

University leaders risked "colluding in the mass consumption" of drugs on campuses by ignoring the issue, he warned.

Rob Noon, LGBT+ officer at NUS, added: “With our research showing so many students use drugs to deal with poor mental health and stress, it is highly unlikely that punishing them heavily and attempting to create a ‘drug free university’ going to deal with these issues.

“In fact, it is likely to exacerbate them.”

Gary Jones, senior scientist from charity The Loop, a drug testing and counselling service, has seen a rise in students interested in getting hold of the kits, despite some universities still having punitive policies.

He told The Independent: “I think there are quite a lot of senior students who are thinking ‘How can we keep new freshers to the university safe? How can we provide resources that engage them and how can we get them interested in reading the leaflets on drug education?’

“[The number of students asking about kits] is definitely growing. I think one of the important things is that people are waking up to the idea that testing is a thing.”

In July, the Home Office said “would not stand in the way” of drug testing at clubs and festivals. It followed calls from experts and campaigners for music events to provide the service after two people died and 13 others were taken to hospital from Hampshire’s Mutiny festival.

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