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Education About Recreational Drug Use is ‘Normalising Drug Taking’

Whilst at Boomtown festival this past summer I stumbled upon an 18-year-old boy, who’s friends had left him in his tent alone, to indulge their hedonism. Immediately I could see that something wasn’t right with him. He was not ok, and on further conversation it was discovered that he had taken 5 grams of speed (amphetamine) and hadn’t slept in 3 days. He was shaking, twitching, unable to concentrate on anything, and muttering about how we were ‘setting him up’. I have never seen anyone in a state like that, it was truly impossible to penetrate his trip, so bad that welfare was summoned in order to help him. It seems logical that greater education on doing illicit substances is necessary in order to prevent situations like this from happening. Yet there is a severe lack of guidance when someone decides they want to experiment.

Drug education can’t simply be based on abstinence and scare tactics, especially at the university level where study drugs are as prevalent as anything else, and partying is second nature. While reading a recent BBC article entitled ‘Drug Use: Is Sheffield Students’ Union Right to Offer Advice’ a statement by David Rayne’s, a representative for the National Drug Prevention Alliance, stood out to me. He suggested the unions advice was ‘normalising drug taking’, and we would reach ‘… a climate [where] more students were taking drugs than not’. But I disagree. Portugal decriminalised drugs in 2001 and now, according to The Independent, there are 3 overdoses per million people. The average in Europe is 17.3 per million. I am not naïve enough to suggest a complete restructure of the legislation surrounding drugs, but I do think it illustrates that a conservative, Nancy Reagan reminiscent approach seems to lead to more drug related injuries and deaths than not.

 Should all universities adopt this informative approach to dealing with the
threats of drug use, rather than simply not talking about it or preaching abstinence?

I am not advocating drug use. But I am also not advocating an education that imposes abstinence. Historically this has never been successful – just look at the statistics for teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections of kids in school where abstinence focused sex education is all that is provided. It only makes sense that educating young people on how to do drugs safely is going to reduce cases of death and addiction. Drugs are around and people do them, especially young people. A recent survey by the National Union of Students suggest that 40% students take illegal drugs and a further 17% admit to having tried drugs at least once. The facts are staring us in the face, yet some people still choose to ignore them. An informative rather than preventative approach is necessary when educating students about drugs use.

Organisations like The Loop (which is working with University of Sheffield Students’ Union) work to educate people on taking drugs safely, and there is a growth in grassroots groups within universities who also do this, but shouldn’t it be inherent within the structure of the universities? Or within student unions nationally? Here at SOAS we have the Enough is Enough consent workshop and other campaigns to bring awareness to important topics, but there is a severe lack of conversation about recreational drug use at the academic level.

Although I agree that an institution should not condone drug use, I wholeheartedly disagree with David Raynes suggestion that this is ‘normalising drug use’. This is the Students Union – something for the students, run by students, and should educate them in aspects of student life – all aspects of it. So, I pose you a question: should the SOAS Students’ Union adopt this approach? Should all universities adopt this informative approach to dealing with the threats of drug use, rather than simply not talking about it or preaching abstinence? Education is going to keep people safe, it’s not about how you can have the most fun, but
how you can do something in the safest way.


Chloë Cochran, B.A. Global Popular Music

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