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People are always going to use drugs - at least let's make it safer for them


A 2015 survey found that 82pc of Irish students had tried illegal drugs (picture posed)

A 2015 survey found that 82pc of Irish students had tried illegal drugs (picture posed)

A 2015 survey found that 82pc of Irish students had tried illegal drugs (picture posed)

DCU's SeshSafe project is now providing students with drug-testing kits and information on drug safety, to check illegal drugs in an experiment seeking to reduce risks from adulterated substances.

SeshSafe is the brainchild of DCU student and chairperson of the university's Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP) group, Eleanor Hulm.

After the deaths of three people in Cork and Dublin last year after drug use at parties, Ms Hulm took the initiative to provide a safe drug-testing kit to students in various Irish universities.

Issuing drug-testing kits is the next logical step towards a more progressive approach to drugs at universities.

It's not promoting drug use. It's trying to avoid harm to people who are going to use them anyway. People are always going to use drugs and we need to make it safer for them.

A 2015 survey found that 82pc of Irish students have tried illegal drugs. For the first time, the survey indicated that some Irish drug users are now purchasing special kits to test the drugs that they intend to use.

Some 5pc of students said that they took drugs because of social or peer pressure, while 27pc said they took drugs for "fun". Another 19pc said they were "curious" about drugs and 13pc said drugs helped them to switch off.

Clearly, drugs are socially ubiquitous. So if you don't acknowledge that students take drugs or that anyone in society takes drugs, then you're ignoring them and if you're ignoring them, their problem is going to continue.

One strategy - which is current policy - is detection and punishment to stop people using drugs.

It simply does not work. The "war on drugs" has been a failure.

The time has come to abandon the notion of a drug-free society. We need to focus on learning to live with drugs in a way that they do the least possible harm.

The truth is, one simple step might have considerably reduced the chances of recent deaths: drug-testing facilities at clubs and kits for home use, so that people can find out which varieties of pill are not what they are said to be, and not harm themselves. This sort of Government-funded scheme could be put in place right now.

It is, of course, impossible to test every pill: you'd do well to operate in one or two big clubs in a particular city. But proper testing reshapes the market. It gives people the knowledge they need to make better decisions. It could even save lives.

At the moment, the strategy for this particular skirmish in the wider war appears to consist of telling people that a drug they don't want to take anyway is bad for them, without giving them any means of identifying it. You might as well tell people to avoid taking the airplane with the dodgy engine.

Facilities have been provided at festivals in Germany and the Netherlands for quite some time to keep festival goers safe, and the evidence and the experience clearly show what works. Education, pill testing, changes in policing and the introduction of amnesty bins all make a significant difference to the potential harms facing those who will continue to use drugs. We just need to provide them.

So should drug laws be tighter? Looser? Non-existent? Decriminalisation of hard drugs could be a way of combating the crime and ill-health associated with them. We should be starting a sensible dialogue for change, from prohibition to strict and responsible regulation of recreational drugs. But it's very unlikely that any government with one eye on the polls would ever consider it.

You are probably tired of reading about the war on drugs. I know I am too. The arguments never seem to go anywhere, and with every new death that ridiculous shorthand comes to seem still more absurd.

Today, when I think of the war on drugs, I don't think of a just struggle with a wicked opponent. I think of foot soldiers, and something a bit more like the Battle of the Bastards in 'Game of Thrones'.

We need to become more pragmatic about drug-taking, and this is a case of showing leadership and recognising that the priority should be health and well-being, not enforcement.

The people who take drugs aren't being looked after. Instead, without understanding why, they are being dispatched to the frontlines and sent over the top by a class of leaders more concerned with their own political prospects than with the well-being of the very people they have promised to protect.

In the absence of decriminalisation, we should at least make drug-taking, for the 82pc of students who have taken narcotics, as safe as possible.

Irish Independent