'Matter of Concern': Think Tank Warns Against Zero Tolerance Policy on UK Student Drug Use

CC0 / / Drugs
Drugs - Sputnik International, 1920, 03.03.2022
A UK poll released in late 2020 showed that the most heavily used drug at British universities was cannabis, with more than 40 percent of the surveyed students admitting to smoking it.
A British think tank has argued that zero tolerance drug policies pursued at UK universities might be a bad thing because it keeps troubled students from turning for help.
In a just-published report, the Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI) cited several surveys as claiming that just three in 10 respondents are ready to disclose information about their drug addiction to their institution's administration without fear of punishment.
According to HEPI, the surveys also revealed that 16% of respondents admitted that they had scary experiences in terms of using drugs, but added that they declined to go to a hospital or seek assistance.
The HEPI report argued that "drug-related deaths, which occur every year within universities, are largely preventable if the right policies and practices are in place".

"If zero tolerance means fewer people coming forward for help, and potentially life-saving information is not communicated to those unwilling or unable to cease illicit drug taking, then for us that is a matter of concern", the think tank asserted.

HEPI then went even further by arguing that lending a hand to troubled students could include briefing them on how to use drugs more safely, "however uncomfortable this may sound". Another option is to give those students educational materials to help them reduce or stop their use of illegal drugs, the HEMI report said.
Report co-author Arda Ozcubukcu underlined that if students involved in drug use or abuse refuse to ask for help in a life-threatening situation because they are concerned about punishment, "then that's a serious problem". According to her, "we all want students to be safe. Harm reduction-based approaches can literally save lives".
The HEPI report was hailed by John de Pury, the assistant director of policy at the advocacy organisation Universities UK, who praised "the clarity in which its authors put health outcomes first".

"Universities need a different conversation about drugs. We need to listen to students to understand and address harms and risks. Above all, we need an open and evidenced approach that has at its heart the safety and health of our university communities", Pury added.

He was echoed by Mike Barton, former chief constable of police in the northwestern English city of Durham, who said that the use of "zero tolerance" at UK universities is "mystifying both in its prevalence and its futility".

Barton argued that "it results in a cruel lottery in terms of its impact on individual students and creates and fosters a wider encouragement of unsafe environments for those engaged in already risky practices".

HEPI's report comes after a poll conducted by the UK news website The Tab in late 2020 found that at least 44% of students at British universities smoke cannabis, while 12% use cocaine.
Another 12.1% admitted to taking laughing gas, or nitrous oxide, while 11.7% said that they use Ketamine. The least popular drugs were speed and Xanax, with 495 and 576 students, respectively, acknowledging using those substances, according to the survey.
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