Universities and colleges ‘failing to protect’ students from drug harms

Educational institutions are failing to protect their students from the ‘potential harms of drugs’, according to a report from the National Union of Students (NUS) and Release. The document is based on a review of the institutional support available at more than 150 universities and colleges, as well as a survey of over 2,800 UK students.

Forty per cent of students said they would not feel comfortable disclosing information about their drug use because of fear of punishment – this acts as a barrier to getting appropriate support, the document states. In the 2016-17 academic year there were more than 500 incidents of students being reported to the police for possession of drugs, with 21 people permanently excluded for possession for personal use. ‘Policy responses that focus solely on disciplining students fail to recognise the complex reasons that lead people to use drugs,’ says the report, and risk adding to the marginalisation of certain groups.

Almost 60 per cent of respondents reported either using drugs currently or having done so in the past, with most saying they do so only occasionally. More than 30 per cent of those who have used drugs said they did so to deal with stress, and more than 20 per cent to self-medicate for mental health issues.

Institutions should make sure that a range of appropriate support – including harm reduction advice – is made available to students, the document stresses, and students should not be ‘disciplined for drug-related behaviour that does not constitute a criminal offence’. Any institutions that wish to apply a more punitive approach should do so through a ‘formal warning’ system, it adds, and students should not be ‘reported to the police or permanently excluded from their studies for simply possessing a drug’.

‘We are deeply concerned about the punitive approach taken towards student drug use in some institutions and the appropriateness of support that is offered around drugs in most cases,’ said policy researcher at Release, Zoe Carre.

Zoe Carre: Deeply concerned about punitive approach

‘The fact that at least 21 students were permanently excluded from their studies for simply possessing a drug, and one in four students caught with drugs for their own personal use were reported to the police, is archaic and harmful – this type of approach prevents people from seeking support if they need it. The reality is that students take drugs and educational institutions must have policies and procedures in place that protect the student population. This can only be done by providing vital harm reduction information, so that they can make more informed choices and be as safe as possible.’

NUS shares the research here

Download the report Taking the hit: student drug use and how institutions respond here

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