Like microwave meals, Netflix and nights out for under £10, drug use has become synonymous of university life across the UK. Over this past few months, Lancaster has received national media attention not because of academic excellence or world-class research, but because of incidents related to drugs. Drug use is not an issue which can easily be addressed. People take drugs for varieties of reasons, in varieties of circumstances, with varieties of effects. It is not until the effects become visual that it pricks our attention and consciousness. Our opinions on drug taking are not based on the reasons or circumstances, but the results that we see and hear. We fail to realise that drug taking, like it or not, in Lancaster and beyond, is part of the society that we live in, and despite the obvious dangers to oneself and other people, there is simply just no way to control it.
Back in May, when five Grizedale students were hospitalised, our University was descended on by the press, revealing to the country that drugs are taken on Lancaster campus and therefore generating conversation around Spice, and what this means for Lancaster. More recently, we witnessed the emergence of ‘black shield-shaped pills’ in the Sugarhouse where six students were admitted to the Royal Lancaster Infirmary. Events such as these dictate narratives concerning drugs, especially narratives around legal highs.
Are drugs becoming more of an issue in Lancaster? The short answer is no. Drugs have, and for the duration, will be a part of life at University and it would be naïve of us to believe otherwise. The key task ahead of us, when confronting issues such as legal highs is to look beyond the immediate effects. Why are drugs being taken? Why are they so readily available? Is the support there if it is needed? I am, by no means, an advocate for drug use but it is apparent that this issue does not start nor end at Lancaster and we know that problems of this scale require solutions of the same scale.
Legal highs and other drugs are not becoming a bigger issue. We only feel like they are when issues such as the ones mentioned above arise; we only discuss them once they have occurred. It takes these instances to shock us into taking notice of what is truly going on around us. We need to pre-emptively consider that whilst we cannot control drug use, which I previously mentioned, it is a concept which needs to understand.
Instead of applying blanket terms and punishments to people who take legal highs and drugs, each individual issue and instance of drug taking needs to be contextualised. Should drug-related incidents be an issue for the local police, or should it be resolved internally in conjunction with the college deaneries? I fully believe that those who deal the drugs should be punished by the police, but those that take them, I believe should be dealt with at the discretion of the University. Harsher punishments will only cause further drug related issues.
This article proves that drug use at university level is becoming more of an issue, bit I believe that it is a concept which should be accepted. The sooner we accept and come to terms with these very relevant and present problems, the sooner we can develop solutions which provide safety net for those who use drugs. I understand that there are limits to how much we can do, and drug users do so at their own free will, but vilifying them in the media and in relation to the law does more harm than good.