Report: Zero-Tolerance Drug Policies Prevent UK Students From Seeking Help Due to Fear of Punishment

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A zero-tolerance approach to drug use may cause more harm than it prevents as students in the United Kingdom do not seek help due to fear of punishment, a new report from the Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI) has shown.

According to the report, there should be a more tolerant and outcomes-based approach to illicit drug use on campus, and universities should prioritize preventing drug harm over preventing drug use, at least in the short term, in cases when students cannot quit using illegal drugs.

Drug-related deaths, which occur every year within universities, are largely preventable if the right policies and practices are in place,” the report reads.  

HEPI report notes that higher education institutions should help students who experiment with drugs and seek help by providing the latter an enabling environment, Erudera.com reports.

“If zero tolerance means fewer people coming forward for help, and potentially life-saving information is not communicated to those unwilling or unable to cease illicit drug taking, then for us that is a matter of concern,” it adds.

Assistant Director of Policy at Universities UK, John de Pury, welcomed HEPI’s report and “the clarity in which its authors put health outcomes first.” He said that universities need a different conversation about drugs, pointing out that they need to listen to students, understand and tackle harms and risks.

Meanwhile, Co-founder and Director at NeuroSight and one of the report’s authors, Arda Ozcubukcu, said that there’s a big problem if students do not seek help due to concerns about punishments.

“Tolerating drug use might feel uncomfortable but what matters is the outcomes. This is a complex problem which cannot be reduced to the presence or absence of drug use. Universities have the opportunity to bring the nuance needed to address this problem and set an example to other institutions,” Ozcubukcu stressed.

Whereas, professor of Forensic Psychology at Durham University and the other author of the report, Graham Towl, said that universities have an opportunity to make a change regarding better outcomes for students who need help, adding that the work in this regard will help save student lives.

The report has highlighted some recommendations to reduce harms as a result of drug use, including:

  • framing illicit drug use as a health issue, rather than as predominantly a criminal justice issue
  • integrating drug use matters into broader institutional narratives such as mental health and wellbeing
  • providing non-judgmental information on drugs through campaigns, workshops, talks, and online materials

In 2019, student Daniel Mervis who was pursuing studies at University College London, struggled with addiction and died at 23 after an overdose.

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