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Drugs testing initiative “a fantastic step forward” – OUSU

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OUSU’s VP for Welfare & Equal Opportunities, Sandy Downs, has described an initiative that provides university students with equipment to test the purity of recreational drugs as “a good thing” and “a fantastic step forward”.

The scheme, set up in response to the deaths of three students in Cork and Dublin last year, is the brainchild of Dublin City University Students for Sensible Drug Policy. It aims to reduce the risks of recreational drug use by providing takers with better information about the contents of the drugs they acquire.

By providing information on drug safety and at-home testing kits to students, the project hopes to both reduce the number of overdoses, hospitalisations and deaths among students, as well as normalise substance testing on university campuses.

Called ‘SeshSafe’, the project has attracted attention following its appearance at Ireland’s 4th Annual National Students for Sensible Drug Policy Conference at DCU on the 11th March. Set up last year, the initiative has been funded through donations and has been gaining traction on social media via its Facebook page.

Speaking to the Irish Independent, SeshSafe’s creator Eleanor Hulm described her motives for pushing ahead with the initiative.

“These people died as a result of taking drugs that were sold to them and they didn’t know the quantity, the purity or what was in what they were taking. They didn’t know that when certain drugs are combined that it is extremely deadly and the risk of death is very high.”

“The reality is that drug use can never be one hundred percent safe but its risks can be reduced massively so it’s time we accept that people use drugs and to evolve to a new approach of saving party people,” Hulm said.

It’s naïve to pretend that drugs aren’t used in Oxford, and people who choose to take drugs should go out of their way to reduce the risk associated with such a choice

Approached for comment by The Oxford Student, OUSU’s VP for Welfare & Equal Opportunities commended the initiative, although was keen to stress the dangers of drug use.

“Whilst purity or quantity alone can’t ensure a safe experience with drugs, any form of harm reduction seems to be a good thing,” she said.

“It’s naïve to pretend that drugs aren’t used in Oxford, and people who choose to take drugs should go out of their way to reduce the risk associated with such a choice”.

While it is unclear whether the introduction of a similar scheme in Oxford is likely, there is no doubt that drugs are present on our campuses. Three years ago, an investigation by the student paper Cherwell revealed the presence of cocaine in locations as varied as the Oxford Union, Radcliffe Camera, and the Ruskin School of Drawing and Fine Art. The use of other substances, especially marijuana, was also found to be widespread.

Equally, whether such an initiative would be effective also remains unclear. Dependent on the willingness of users to complete the testing process, as well as the practicalities in conducting the tests, there is no guarantee that something like SeshSafe would deliver clear results. Moreover, there would likely be questions from some quarters as to whether introducing a programme that enables safer drug use, as opposed to furthering abstention, is a good approach.

In the conclusion of her statement, Sandy Downs stressed the services already available, reminding those concerned about the safety of themselves or friends that advice can be sought from non-university sources, such as Turning Point, Alcoholics Anonymous, FRANK, and Down Your Drink, as well as college and university welfare services.

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