Newcastle University has made kits for testing the safety of illegal drugs available to students for just £3, as part of the new ‘Test Your Drugs, Not Yourself’ initiative aimed at improving drug safety.

The kits allow students to check the purity of drugs, with chemical reactions turning the kits different colours depending on the substances. The university also scrapped its no tolerance policy on drug possession in accommodation last year. The kits are being sold in association with the Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP) organisation.

This strikes me as an incredibly sensible policy.

Humans have virtually always taken drugs, in one form or another, and we will almost certainly continue to do so until we die out. Despite the best efforts of western governments, drug use is still high; in fact, it’s rising. It is claimed that the War against Drugs, started by President Nixon in 1971, was motivated by a desire to criminalise blacks and hippies. Whether or not this is the case, the initiative is far outdated, having succeeded in little other than demonising, imprisoning and endangering drug users.

“the most dangerous aspect of taking illegal drugs is largely not related to the drugs themselves – it is related to the impurities that exist within them”

Of people aged 16-24, approximately 37.7% have taken illicit drugs. I am not ashamed to say that I am one of those people.

The criminalising tactics of current drug policy did not deter me from taking drugs, and they did not deter the millions of other people in this country alone who have done the same. Surely, as a nation, we have a responsibility to ensure that these people are safe. These kits certainly increase safety.

Despite advice from the World Health Organisation and the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, as well as evidence from Portugal suggesting that reform of drug laws (including decriminalisation and attempts to reduce stigma towards addiction and drug use) is beneficial to all, the debate on drugs in this country is moving painfully slowly in comparison to a number of other countries such as Portugal, Switzerland, and even the USA.

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“In a world where users can test for these impurities with kits instead of their bodies, drug use becomes a lot safer”

When it has been repeatedly found that the majority of drugs are less harmful than alcohol, the most dangerous aspect of taking illegal drugs is largely not related to the drugs themselves – it is related to the impurities that exist within them. In a world where users can test for these impurities with kits instead of their bodies, drug use becomes a lot safer. Drug related hospitalisations and deaths, which have also recently risen, instead plummet.

Criminalisation and harsher penalties have done nothing to deter users, and the only sensible action is to allow users to take drugs more safely. These kits are certainly a step in the right direction, and something that I would urge other universities and local councils to look at.

“People are always going to use drugs and we just want to make it safer”

Disappointingly, despite positive moves from police forces, such as Durham’s, Nottingham’s newly re-elected Police and Crime Commissioner told me that he is “[n]ot in favour” of decriminalisation.

However, I struggle to see a downside to it – it would greatly reduce the £3bn a year currently spent on tackling illegal drugs, it reduces stigma towards people addicted to drugs who need and are often afraid to seek help, it increases safety for drug users leading to fewer deaths, and there is even evidence to suggest it reduces the amount of drug use in society.

Holly Mae Robinson, president of SSDP Newcastle, told ChronicleLive that the campaign was “about health and well-being” at its core: “We are not promoting drug use. It’s trying to avoid the harm of people that are going to use them. People are always going to use drugs and we just want to make it safer.”

I couldn’t agree more. Decriminalisation is a progressive, sensible, evidence-based and logical policy. Drug use is no longer about politics. It is about saving lives. And the longer we wait to make changes, the more people we are letting down.

Jack Taylor 

Image: Featured image courtesy of ‘Jonathan Silverberg’ via Flickr, article image courtesy of ‘Christian C’ via Flickr.

Statistics courtesy of: http://www.drugwise.org.uk/how-many-people-use-drugs/

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