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On Sunday, week 1, news broke that a few students from Lancaster University had been hospitalised after taking a ‘new’ drug at The Sugarhouse. It raises questions about just how big an issue drugs are at Lancaster University, and to what extent drug-use is preventable.
The drug was described as a ‘black shield-shaped tablet’ by police and is speculated to have been a ‘Black Don Perignon.’ A ‘SaferParty’ report investigated one such pill and found that it contained about 120mg of MDMA and HCl. It causes hallucinations, euphoria, lightness and greater sensitivity to touch and music. ‘Inhibitions are reduced and the need for contact is increased’, the report explains. However, the list of dangers was immense: dehydration, increased blood pressure, heat stroke, convulsions and twitching. The ‘come-down’ or crash leads to feelings of depression, lack of concentration, insomnia and lack of appetite.
But who is responsible for preventing drug-use? Is it inevitable in a university environment? And what’s the biggest problem for the welfare of students: legal-highs, illegal drugs, alcohol or spiking?
PC Ben Rooke, who polices the University campus, spoke about drugs and their role in University life: ‘Drugs are inevitable in society, not just at university. They’ve been around for so long, and it’s an ever-changing market. People are always looking for a buzz – and drugs provide a synthetic rush. It only lasts for so long, though, and the risks are immense.’
He continued, ‘By getting everyone on side who wants a drug free environment, it is easier.’
PC Rooke went on to acknowledge: ‘Of course, not everyone wants a drug-free environment, but I think the majority of students want a safe and enjoyable environment where they can have fun while being responsible.’
However, one first year student said he did not regret his experiences with drugs: ‘I took MDMA at a house party. It was with a combination of other drugs like N-Bombs, and it really f****** me up, I was really frightened.’
He relayed the experience, ‘I could hear heavy breathing which wasn’t mine, I was hallucinating, so I went to a dark room to be on my own. One of my friends gave it to me, but I don’t regret it. I think it was a valuable learning experience for me.’
Another student acknowledged the importance of environment when taking drugs, saying: ‘I take pills at festivals, but I wouldn’t take them at a nightclub, that’s sketty. I wouldn’t take anything at uni.’
She continued, ‘I would never take legal highs. They say legal highs are more dangerous than illegal drugs.’
Yet legal highs are a growing problem and, as such, are becoming increasingly controlled by the government. N-Bomb, for example, was previously a legal high and was made a Class A drug in June 2014.
‘Taking legal highs is essentially playing Russian Roulette’, PC Rooke explained, ‘they’re a complete mix of chemicals, they’re untested and people believe that, just because they’re called ‘legal’, they are safe. That’s a very common misconception’
‘This is going to be our biggest problem, and it’s already a huge problem.’
But is it really the responsibility of the police to prevent drug-use? PC Rooke believes that ‘everyone is responsible for preventing drug use. I’ve encountered ex-addicts who help out and educate people about the dangers of drugs.’
He described a multi-agency meeting that he attended, which involved ‘the police, ambulance, hospitals, scientists, mental health agencies – we all discussed the trends that are going to emerge and how we would deal with it. We’re all keeping our responsibility to help people.’
Ed Matthews, co-owner of the Mojo nightclub in town, agrees that he has a duty of care, and said he has a ‘beyond zero-tolerance’ approach to drugs: ‘I have duty of care to everybody, keeping the streets and the people in your premises safe. We’ve had no incidents of drugs because, basically, you won’t get into my venue with drugs.’
In terms of spiking, PC Rooke believes that ‘spiking is preventable. Bars and clubs have a responsibility regarding spiking, for example using the Spikey device.’
The Spikey device is a plastic stopper that goes into the neck of a bottle and allows only enough space for a single straw, to prevent tampering.
Matthews described another system that is used in Mojo: ‘We have a sticker system, our glass-collectors and our bar staff have stickers. If your bottle is left unattended we will put a sticker on your bottle lid that says “you could’ve been spiked.”’
Mojo has also gone to great lengths to prevent drugs entering the premises. Matthews explained, ‘We are very active in searches. If you’ve got a sign on your door that says ‘searches in operation’ it will deter people away. I’ve seen people walk away from the queue because they don’t want to be searched – and that is a deterrent that a lot of licensees will use.’
It isn’t just Mojo. The union nightclub, The Sugarhouse, uses a number of methods to prevent and discourage drug use. A spokesperson for Sugarhouse said: ‘There is a zero-tolerance drugs policy that involves the vigilance of our security team, including random searches on the door that if refused result in non-admittance.’
‘Within the venue we have messages displayed offering safety advice and reinforcing our policy.’
A spokesperson for LUSU emphasised the importance of education when it comes to drugs, stating: ‘Lancaster University Students’ Union is committed to being proactive in providing students with information about the risks of taking drugs, particularly at the start of term when new students join the university community. Information is shared through university information talks, online and via email and social media.’
PC Rooke agrees: ‘I believe it’s important to educate people about the pitfalls of drugs – such as the effects, the origins, and the consequences of a criminal record.’
He concluded, ‘I do think we need to help those who take drugs, in terms of education and welfare. But I have no sympathy for those who deal drugs. They’re selling stuff that will kill somebody. I’ll quite happily put that person away.’