'Drug taking is normalised', says campaigner defending student union's advice on how to 'safely' take drugs

'Drug taking is normalised', says campaigner defending student union's advice on how to 'safely' take drugs

Friday, September 28, 2018

The University of Sheffield Student’s Union has come under fire for having advice on its website on how to take illegal drugs safely, including guidance to “never inject alone”.

The text has now been removed from the student’s union website, which states that there is a “zero tolerance policy” at the student’s union.

There is a link to the website of The Loop, a drug safety charity, which does provide advice on how to minimise risk when consuming drugs.

Dan Wootton branded the fact that the advice had appeared on the website “ridiculous” and “disgusting” and challenged campaigner Martin Powell, of the drug reform think-tank Transform, who was in favour of the student’s union publishing the advice.


'If you take drugs you take your life into your hands'

“Can I just remind the university that drug taking is illegal?” Wootton said, on the talkRADIO drivetime show.

“We do not live in a culture that says, just because something might be done, that we have to promote it and make sure people doing it are safe.

“The whole point of taking illegal drugs is that if you are, you’re taking your own lives into your hands because it simply is not safe.”

Addressing Powell, he said: “I presume you’re all for this type of advice, given that you want cocaine and MDMA to be entirely legal?”

“Yes, we do support sensible health-based advice that reduces deaths,” Powell replied. “I think what we can all agree on is that we want to reduce harm from drugs, I’m sure you’d agree on that, and that dying is the worst harm you can possibly have from drugs.”

Wootton said that witnessing people in the entertainment industry die as a result of drug use had made him back a zero-tolerance approach.

“Call me old fashioned, Martin, but I actually don’t believe that universities should be telling students how to take drugs in any form,” he said.

“If there’s any message coming from the university it should be that drugs are entirely illegal, if you take them you’re potentially going to risk your life.

“This message makes me sick, especially given that I’ve been surrounded by so many people in the entertainment industry, who say regularly, ‘oh no, I’ve got my drug taking under control’, then end up dead from overdoses a few years later.”


'Like it or not, drug use is normalised'

'Drug taking is normalised', says campaigner Powell. Image: The Loop

“In the real world, Dan, people do take drugs,” said Powell.

Statistics from NHS Digital show that one in 12 adults aged 16-59 took an illicit drug in 2016-2017.

“You think it’s right that the University of Sheffield is acknowledging that they have students trying to get degrees or PhDs who shoot up on heroin?” Wootton arged. “I put it to you that anyone shooting up on heroin will not graduate from university!”

“Actually I know someone who got a PhD who took heroin,” Powell replied, and added that the person was “still alive”.

Wootton insisted that the advice on how to reduce risks when consuming illegal drugs was “normalising drug use, and there’s going to be an increasing number of people taking drugs”.

“I have three teenagers myself and I know, like it or not, drug use is already normalised. “That’s the world we live in. We can wish it away, but it’s not going to change anything.

“Significant numbers of people at university will be taking drugs, whether we like it or not, and the university has a duty to keep them safe.”

The University of Sheffield Student Union’s welfare officer Katharine Swindells wrote in the Metro that drug use is not condoned by the student’s union.

“Media coverage over the last two days stating that by outlining this advice Sheffield is condoning drug use is inaccurate and wrong,” she said.

The advice was "us taking precautions to reduce risk,” she added.