Students! We want to talk to you about drugs

Tuesday 06-02-2018 - 17:18

Today, we launch our Students’ Drug Survey to learn more about students’ attitudes towards and experiences of drug use to inform our welfare and campaigning work, and to provide advice and support for both cis and trans students.

Tell us your experiences of using drugs.

We are both very excited to announce the launch of the Students’ Drug Survey; the first ever comprehensive national study seeking to understand the nature of students’ drug use in order to ensure that our students’ unions, and our movement, can better support students who use drugs.

We know that young people tend to use drugs at higher rates than the rest of the population yet there is surprisingly little research exploring students’ attitudes and experiences in the UK. Sensationalist press might portray us as being part of a hedonistic drug taking party culture but the reality is much more complex. Students use drugs for a multitude of reasons and in all sorts of environments but as a movement, we are not that great at talking openly about them. What’s more, stigma and fear of punishment prevents people who have bad experiences of drugs or who use them problematically from coming forward and seeking help. This is without even considering the political context; the marketisation of education has led to increased stress and financial precarity for students, in this climate drug use could become a way of escapism.

The fact is that we do not know enough about why students use drugs and how they are affected by them. The education sector is diverse in its response to student drug use; some institutions operate zero tolerance policies towards drug use whilst others seek to provide support and help where it is needed. Students’ unions are similarly diverse, some provide good quality information and advice around drugs whereas others are reluctant to engage in open and honest dialogue when it comes to illegal substances. Silence around drugs is damaging; it prevents us from learning responsible behaviours and promoting healthy attitudes.

Run in partnership with drug charity Release, this piece of research is an important step in ensuring our policies are based on current and credible evidence and our practices have the best interests of students at their heart, which means an approach that prioritises our access to education and makes our campuses safe. We understand that the culture of secrecy, silence and stigma around drug use means it can be difficult to talk about so we would like to emphasise that all survey responses will be used anonymously and treated non-judgmentally. We do not approach this study as one about morals, we simply want to learn about how drugs, drug policy and drug laws impact you, so as a movement we can begin to reduce those harms, support students who use drugs and enable them to stay in education.

Trans students
Students who experience marginalisation are disproportionately impacted by drug policies and laws around the globe and the little data we have points to trans people being more at risk of drug-related harms than their cis (non-trans) counterparts. We know that the trans community often faces greater challenges accessing healthcare and social support, and that the way some hormonal preparations are dealt with under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 has the potential to criminalise trans people. This survey will therefore have a specific section for trans students to complete which aims to learn about your access to healthcare and your experiences of gatekeeping and criminalisation. Trans respondents will also be asked if they wish to participate in follow-up focus groups which we will be organising to explore these issues in more detail and build a deeper picture of drugs within the trans community.

It’s really important that both trans and cis (non-trans) students from FE and HE institutions fill in this survey and help us to shape drug policy and drug culture on our campuses. Please share widely too!

If you have any questions about this piece of research, get in touch.

Jess Bradley and Izzy Lenga
NUS Trans Officer and NUS VP Welfare



Features, Trans, Welfare

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