Does Lancaster University have a drug problem?

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Mephedrone: Became a highly popular and readily available ‘legal high’ earlier this year before it was reclassified as a Class B substance by the Government

With drug use among young people and students being especially focussed on recently in the national media, SCAN conducted an investigation into local and campus trends.

According to a paper in the Home Affairs Committee Third Report released in 2002, entitled The Government’s Drug Policy: Is It Working?, “around four million people use illicit drugs each year in England and Wales.”

The report also found that “last year, 18.7% of 16-24 year olds admitted to smoking cannabis”, while “8.1% 16-24 used class A drugs.”

Legal highs such as laughing gas and softer drugs with lower classifications like marijuana are reportedly the most common habits of students and young people, something reflected by the views of students on campus.

At a recent campus social event, students were seen to be using legal highs in plain view. The President of the college JCR involved said that “I’ve not really come across much in the way of students abusing drugs but I did witness some students, both from other universities, inhaling laughing gas on a campus wide social. As the drug is not illegal I spoke to them and asked them to keep it out of sight and not make it obvious as there was little else I could do, which they happily obliged.”

He went on to add that in his opinion “the fear mongering around the student drug culture is typical though and I believe that students are mature enough to make the right choices.”

The newest media focus in the current ongoing storm over drugs in “broken Britain” is mephedrone.   Lancaster itself had a brush with the drug, still available as a legal high at the time, in Michaelmas Term of this year.  Eight people were arrested for possessing an amount of white powder, which as it was unidentified could have potentially been a controlled substance.  Due to the fact that so many controlled substances look alike the incident was treated very seriously by the authorities.

The deaths of Louis Wainwright, 18, and Nicholas Smith, 19, in March 2010 sparked concern about the synthetic stimulant, which was then legal.

On 16 April 2010, they became classified as Class B drugs, meaning that they are illegal to be sold and illegal to possess. The importation of these substances into the country has already been banned.

Use of mephedrone has, since the reclassification, seemingly diminished rapidly.  Reports from investigative journalists have shown that since it became illegal the street value and dealing price have rocketed to the same levels as cocaine.  Once it was readily available for £10 per gram, now it is up to £35 per gram unless buying quantities suitable for dealing, where it is available for £3 per gram.

The drug’s reclassification as Class B was a contentious issue, with many people arguing that it should remain a legal high because of its relatively tame effects and harmlessness.

According to the Independent, up to 27 people in the UK may have died from taking the drug.  This breaks down to 18 deaths “potentially linked to mephedrone” in England, seven in Scotland and one each in Wales and Northern Ireland.

At present mephedrone has only been established as a cause of death in only one case in England.  John Sterling Smith was found to have underlying health problems and had been repeatedly injecting prior to his death, before taking mephedrone.
One anonymous student stated “I’ve tried meph a few times. It was fun at first but the novelty wore off rapidly compared to drugs like MDMA. Now that it’s illegal I wouldn’t be doing it again. “

Other students go as far as to blame the media for the criminalisation of mephedrone and claims it is nowhere near as harmful as the tabloids make out. One recent revelation which has emerged supports this, where two men reported to have died from the drug were found to have no trace of it in their systems.

One student agreed with this idea, commenting “the only problem with meph is the hype. Because the papers rambled on about it, it became a massive deal. They went on about how many people died from it in the few months it got tabloid press, but how many died from drinking and fighting under the influence?”

On the subject of campus-wide policy, and authorities and support networks, PC Gary Wynne, Torri Crapper, LUSU Vice President for Equality, Welfare and Diversity (VP EWD), the college administrators and Acting Head of Security Mark Salisbury were all contacted for comments.

None of the college administrators found the time to comment or discuss the policy of drug use in campus residences.

Similarly, Acting Head of Security Mark Salisbury, despite several correspondences, chose not to set aside time to discuss security arrangements and authority policies.

VP EWD Crapper said that “as far as I know incidents of students with drugs are referred straight to the police and we don’t actually see many of them. This obviously depends on the drug used.”

Crapper conceded that details of case could not be disclosed. “Unfortunately due to the confidential nature of LUSU advice it would be inappropriate to give you any facts on cases. What I can say is that we don’t tend to see students with drug use problems.”

The campus’ dedicated police officer, PC Gary Wynne, was more forthcoming with information and downplayed reports that drug use on campus was prolific. He stated “there have been no reported drug incidents on campus at all since 2008 and since 2004 only six have come to light, not all of these are even students at the university.”

PC Wynne admitted that, away from campus, “There are issues with drug use in the town centre, but this is to be expected from anywhere.”
“The arrival of mephedrone has not led to an increase as far as I’m concerned. It is merely an alternative to other illegal drugs.”

PC Wynne also commented on the recent mephedrone arrests at Sugarhouse, which have led to charges being brought against one student.
“The only reason that we’re aware of any drug possession in The Sugarhouse is because of the professionalism of the staff in. The Sugarhouse is a very well run establishment and the staff conduct searches to a very high level. The drugs found on the premises are in no way a reflection on the club itself.”

PC Wynne conceded that perhaps a drug culture is inevitable.  He stated “I am aware that people will experiment as youngsters. I would like to remind students that it is illegal to possess drugs. They are a danger to health and should consider that if they carry drugs then they always run the risk of running foul of the police and the courts. This could seriously affect their future job prospects and will come up on a CRB check. If you won’t stop for your own health then at least consider future employment.”

However, the student consensus does not share PC Wynne’s optimism. One student, who wishes to remain anonymous, says “For a while in Lent Term mephedrone was everywhere. You couldn’t go out without smelling it or seeing somebody on it. A lot of people who I never would’ve thought would be on it got really into it over the space of a few weeks just because it was cheap and legal.”
The student also commented “compared to most unis I go to visit, drugs are really hard to get hold of here. Sure there’s people smoking weed and stuff but I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything harder than that.”

Another anonymous source added “when it was legal it was really easy to get meph on campus. Now there are still a few selling it but obviously not as many. Everyone knows a drug dealer, or someone who knows a drug dealer.”

This was contested by another student who stated that “cannabis is really easy to get hold of. You can get cocaine if you make an effort looking for it. The town itself is fairly quiet for the drugs scene, but being a university obviously the drugs scene is enlarged.”

PC Wynne has been instrumental in setting up a support network on campus.  “If anybody wants to discuss any issues, drugs or otherwise, they can always contact me in confidence. Anybody is welcome to come along to the PACT meetings in the LUSU meeting room at 1pm every Wednesday.”

VP EWD Crapper detailed “if a student did come in with an addiction they would be referred to the relevant organisation which can support them in coming off the substance however what we do offer can be found on our website.”

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