Talking Drugs: A Harm Reduction Guide

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If there is something most of us can agree on, it’s that as a general rule, recreational drugs are not good for you. Firstly, the consumption and dealing of drugs is a criminal offence in the United Kingdom. Despite this, 56% of university students have consumed drugs over their lifetime, according to the National Union of Students. Secondly, illegal substances can have negative effects on users’ physical and mental wellbeing, with the most serious cases resulting in death. Since 2014, more than 200 people have died in the UK from ecstasy-related issues alone.

It is delusional to expect all students at University not to do drugs. There is a newfound sense of freedom in moving away from home for the first time which can often lead young people to try new experiences, amongst them drugs. Although I am not condoning or encouraging the use of illegal substances, I want to offer advice about how to consume them as safely as possible if you’re going to take them regardless. 

Realistically, the only way to stay one hundred per cent safe is by not consuming drugs at all. However, this is not the reality; statistics consistently show that a significant number of students do take drugs recreationally. As this is the reality, those who do choose to take drugs can take some steps to try and reduce their risk as much as possible.

It is important for everyone to keep in mind that the University of Leeds operates a zero-tolerance policy regarding illegal drugs. If you are found involved with them, you will face serious disciplinary measures which can lead to eviction from University accommodation, or  even expulsion.

Since recreational drugs are not regulated, it is hard to be 100% sure that you have been sold exactly what you asked for. Even if two substances might look the same, differences in chemical composition can pose a serious danger to the consumer’s health. A common example of this is fentanyl being sold as cocaine; this opioid is much stronger, and can lead to overdoses when consumed without knowing.

The best way to be sure about a substance is to always test drugs. Testing kits can be bought online through discrete and confidential services. The Subreddit r/ReagentTesting is an excellent place to find guidance on which testing kit to get and how to use them correctly. Front-of-the-house drug testing services have been offered by charities such as The Loop in festivals throughout England over the past few years, with excellent results. During the two years that this organisation operated in Boomtown Fair, no drug-related deaths were recorded at the festival. Please bear in mind too that a testing kit operated by someone with no professional training is not a guarantee of safety, but it will make you better informed about what you are taking.

Conducting a drug reagent test at a festival [Image: The Loop]

If you are unable to get a testing kit yourself, websites such as ecstasydata.org and apps like Know Drugs issue warnings about unsafe substances. You should always Google ecstasy pills before consuming them, as some substances may have up to three times the recommended dosage. 

Leeds University Union supports a harm reduction approach to drug consumption, focusing on minimising the risks for students through support and education.

Amy Wells, LUU’s Welfare Officer this year, said:

“I’m so excited to be carrying on your 2018/19 Welfare Officer Matt Port’s drug harm reduction campaign this year. I’ve finalised a new harm reduction policy on drug use for Leeds University Union and have just finished my project plan for the Union to do a campaign on safer drug taking (like where you can find dosing and mixing info) and the confidential support that’s available to you at the Union (you won’t get reported to anyone through seeking help about drugs and alcohol from us).”

“Alongside this will be a piece of work helping the University of Leeds create a clearer, more wellbeing-focused drug use policy and strategic approach.”

“I’ll also be working on providing drug testing kits in the Union and will be encouraging work in the venues where students are at risk from drug use in town.”

When consuming illegal drugs, there are safety guidelines and tips that should always be kept in mind. The UK charity Release outlines some of the most important on its website: 

  1. Always start with a small dose to see how you react to the substance. In case you are having stimulants (ecstasy, cocaine…) wait at least 2 hours before redosing. 
  2. If you have the feeling something is going wrong, seek help and be honest about your situation. 
  3. Make your friends aware of what you are taking and try and stay in a safe environment.
  4. Avoid mixing drugs, especially with alcohol and depressants. Never take alcohol with benzodiazepines (Valium, Xanax…) as it is an extremely dangerous combination.
  5. If you are taking stimulants, stay hydrated and take regular breaks from dancing or other activities. Do not exceed more than a pint of liquid per hour.

Speaking up about drug misuse can be a daunting experience, but there are people (in and off campus) who can help. If you are concerned about your drug habits, you can contact LUU Advice, the University’s counselling service, or your Personal Tutor. The University offers counselling service through workshops and both group and individual appointments, and 24/7 support for students online through Big White Wall

Regarding professional support, Forward Leeds is a city-wide service with a dedicated team which can help people who are struggling with substance abuse. All of these platforms are non-judgmental; you will not get in trouble for asking for help. 

Ultimately, no one but yourself can decide whether or not you are going to consume drugs. Always keep in mind the negative impact this decision can have on you and the people around you but wholeheartedly, whatever you do, I hope you have the best time in Leeds.