What the hell are we supposed to tell students about drugs?

If you work in Higher Education, you’re at the end of your summer, the quiet days in the office are over and the busiest term of the year is about to start…

Having worked in a students union for the last few years, and before/during/after that actually being a student, I know a little bit about the chaos that is Freshers. For staff, it’s exhausting but fun, and the first chance to meet the thousands of students flocking to your campus. For students though, especially new ones, it’s a time of uncertainty and trying to work out how the hell you survive as an adult and how you fit in with all of the humans who you now live with.

All of this is, for most, compounded by the expectation that freshers week/fortnight/month will be the best time of your life — you’ll be out drinking with new friends every night and if you’re lucky you might make it to a few lectures or welcome talks the morning after. Students drink, we all know that right? Campuses will be flooded with campaigns on how to drink ‘safely’. But we also know that some students will decide to take drugs; where’s the concern for their safety? Just say no doesn’t work, so here’s what you should be telling students about drugs.

Whether you think student drug use is just a bit of fun, or an unforgivable sin, you can’t deny it is happening — and making them sign a contract saying they wont take drugs won’t help, by the way. Harm reduction advice is crucial, especially at this time of year. Students Unions, universities and halls of residence should be sharing advice on how to reduce the risks of drug use even if they have a zero tolerance policy on drug use — look at the amount of young people being hospitalised over the summer at festivals, just say no doesn’t help and lives are at risk. We do this for alcohol on every single campus, so take a few of these simple steps to help make you’re students safer.

Talking Drugs has a few really good graphics in their ‘Safer Use Guides’, perfect for sharing on social media, sending out to students via email or printing and putting up in physical spaces. You can see one below, and others here.

MDMA Harm Reduction from www.talkingdrugs.org

Students live on their phones, so providing helpful links that they can access in their own time is important — drugs and me is a GREAT resource to point people towards for harm reduction advice. It gives a huge huge amount of information that your students could use to help themselves and their peers, citing reports from the BMJ and other recognised sources, while still being relatable for young people. It highlights issues around legal status and risk of addiction too, so it really isn’t ‘promoting drug use’ which seems to be what education providers are terrified of.

Not only do students risk harm from using drugs, they also run the risk around the legalities of substances they choose to use. Most universities have a zero tolerance policy and will even report students to the police themselves — thats why it’s so SO important that the Release app and website are publicised by those who come into contact with students. You can also get a lot of good materials from Release for your advice centres and wellbeing hubs — please do get in touch with them for this!

Video from Release.org.uk.

There’s so many other great resources out there, and you should definitely hunt around and see what’s happening in your local area too — this all needs to tie into a bigger piece of work about student wellbeing. If you’re interested in learning more about student drug use, please go check out the NUS/Release report ‘Taking the Hit; Student Drug Use & How Institutions Respond’ or read some of my thoughts on it over on the CGL website. If you want help with campaigning on student drug use, drop me a message on Twitter & I’ll happily help you create a campaign tailored to your campuses needs. I’ll be posting more throughout this academic year about how educational providers should be doing more to support students.

EDIT; if you have questions about why we should be talking to students about drug use, check out my new post here!