Following the deaths of two Newcastle University students, a group of students has revived the Newcastle chapter of Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP).
The new branch of the international organisation says it aims to update the University’s drug policy. It also wants to “help students instead of reprimanding them”.
Speaking to The Courier, the co-presidents, Sim Sembi and Ali El-Rhalibi, gave their “sincere condolences to the family, friends and all students affected by the shocking events”.
They also outlined the aims of the new society, which include:
- Giving every student the opportunity to have access to drug testing kits
- Publicising harm reduction information across the student body
- Working alongside the University in order to enact “lasting reform” on their drug policy
- Engendering a willingness for future generations of students to prolong the society
Sim and Ali told The Courier that the society is not “acting in opposition to the SU [Students’ Union] or the views held by the University”.
“Many of the values we hold are reflected within the University’s Alcohol & Drugs Misuse Policy. We do, however, feel the University could provide more resources to better equip students to make informed decisions regarding drug use, thus alleviating the taboo associated with it.”
Talking to The Courier, the University explained that education and harm reduction are both central to their approach to drugs policy. It also pointed out that support from the Student Health and Wellbeing Service was available for students taking drugs or considering taking them.
A spokesperson for the University also explained that Newcastle University and the SU “co-lead a cross-agency working group which aims to educate, safeguard and support students on all matters relating to alcohol and substance use”, involving Northumbria Police and Newcastle City Council.
In an update on her blog, Nadia Ahmed, the Welfare & Equality Officer for the Students’ Union, announced the SU has been looking at the logistics of both “testing kits, [and a] newly established Drug and Alcohol clinic” since June.
SSDP has said it welcomes these plans, but wishes to speed up their implementation, explaining that these policies have so far “failed to materialise”.
Speaking to The Courier, Ahmed welcomed the return of SSDP.
“When subjects are taboo,” she opined, “students are more vulnerable as they are not as willing to speak up.”
She also explained “a lot of research would need to take place in order to put forward our argument and plans effectively”.
“This harm reduction approach and the re-introduction of drug testing kits are highly contentious and we had to have a strong case prior to conversations with the University, the police and public health.”
“We have a meeting set up this coming week with SSDP as a national organisation and following on from this we are convening the group of students and YourVoice staff to put together a project plan to evidence our case. Once all of this is in place the logistical steps will follow and we should be able to implement the testing kits quickly.”
The Drug and Alcohol Clinic – a joint venture between NUSU and Newcastle Public Health – will open on 28 October. The service allows for students to book an appointment with a drug and alcohol support worker to discuss safety and concerns.
SSDP’s co-presidents are confident that they’ll be able to achieve their aims, even in the COVID-19 climate. After recently setting up a committee, and getting the society officially set up through the SU, the SSDP says it hopes to offer a harm prevention drug policy “to a student base that’s currently rocked by the very thing the SSDP’s policies aim to prevent”.
Featured Image: Joe Molander
Last modified: 22nd October 2020