A report from the Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI) highlights a survey which suggests that three in 10 students would feel confident to disclose information regarding drug use or abuse to their institution without fear of punishment.
The survey also revealed that 16% of students interviewed who use illegal drugs reported having scary experiences but did not go to hospital or ask for help.
The report states that drug-related deaths ‘are largely preventable if the right policies and practices are in place.’
‘If zero tolerance means fewer people coming forward for help and potentially live-saving information is not communicated to those unwilling or unable to cease illicit drug taking, then for us that is a matter of concern,’ they explain.
HEPI was established in 2002 ‘to influence the higher education debate with evidence.’
Arda Ozcubuku and Professor Graham Towl, the authors of the report, argue that an approach ‘based on public health and focused on harm reduction’ is a better way to deal with students who take illegal drugs than the zero-tolerance policies universities often have in place.
Co-founder and Director at NeuroSight Ozcubuku said:
‘If students aren’t asking for help in a life-threatening situation because they worry about punishment, then that’s a big problem. We all want students to be safe. Harm reduction based approaches can literally save lives. Tolerating drug use might feel uncomfortable but what matters is the outcomes.’
Ozcubuku also explained that drug use is ‘a complex problem which cannot be reduced to the presence or absence of drug use.’ He said that ‘universities have the opportunity to bring the nuance needed to address this problem and set an example to other institutions.’
Assistant director of policy at Universities UK John de Pury stated that ‘universities need a different conversation about drugs,’ and welcomed the report and the ‘clarity in which its authors put health outcomes first.’
‘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,’ de Pury added.