UCDSU launch harm reduction campaign

Image Credit: Áine Murphy

On January 14th, UCD Students’ Union launched a harm reduction campaign across their social media. The campaign, spearheaded by UCDSU Welfare Officer Molly Greenough, aims to educate students on the safety measures they can implement when consuming drugs.

Greenough spoke to the University Observer last week about what prompted the campaign: “Most of our campaigns would be guided by our policies, so as a Union we’re mandated to support the students for sensible drug policy as well as we recently passed a mandate this year to support the decriminalisation of all recreational drug use and the legalisation of medical and recreational cannabis use. That is what informed our interest originally, with people returning to nightlife and things hopefully starting to open up again we thought it would be important to provide information on harm reduction.”

The information will be published across the Union’s social media over a three week period, with Greenough and the team  hoping to educate students on key pillars within the drug consumption conversation; tolerance, mental health, and looking after your friends “we wanted to focus on tolerance in light of the Covid-19, students may not have taken drugs over the course of the pandemic, or there may have been bigger intervals in between consumption.” The campaign contains infographics intended to equip students with the information to safely interact with drugs. “We rely on a variety of information from the HSE, especially Drugs.ie as well as various drug nonprofits such as The Loop in the UK. As each post goes up online, there will be a plain text version available on the website as well that will serve as a resource.”

“To date, we haven’t had any collaboration or support from the University. Down the line we are hoping to push for a good samaritans policy on campus, and is something we are hoping to bring to the student experience group this semester. Good Samaritan policies are there to ensure that no student would face repercussions for calling emergency services or security if someone were to start feeling physically or mentally unwell or at risk of harming themselves. Sometimes students may fear calling for help because they don’t want to face any repercussions whether that be with the law or UCD themselves, that is something we’re hoping to work on, but to date it has been an independent campaign.”

The campaign is not in collaboration, nor has it received the support of the university, Greenough asserting the differing angle the two organisations take on safe drug use education “I don’t expect it will be something that they will agree to; I think there is a lot of stigma around drug use, it's what we’re hoping to counteract with this campaign also, the age of ‘war on drugs, abstinence only’ mindset. I’d be surprised if the university would be willing to collaborate with us right off the bat. I think it will take some convincing, but we’re definitely willing to work on it. The university has a fairly anti-drugs stance so I wouldn’t expect there to be any substantive collaboration in the near future.”

Greenough spoke of the tangible supports they hope to offer students, with SU provisions for drug testing kits on the horizon “we’re doing work in the background in trying to bring back drug testing kits and trying to find something reliable.” The SU have sought legal advice on the practicality of providing said kits, and are looking into providing them for free or at cost price to students. Neighbouring European countries are pulling ahead with their harm reduction resource allocation, a fact Greenough is aware of Ireland’s lack of mobilisation “Ireland doesn’t have the drug testing capabilities or resources that the UK or the Netherlands has, that have really comprehensive testing abilities for events such as festivals.” When asked about the importance of the introduction of consumption rooms, Greenough painted a bleak picture of the lack of infrastructure, both nationally and within UCD “In a dream world I think it would be fantastic to have a resource like a consumption room on campus but we are at a point in time were nationally, there aren’t even that many so I think its something for very far down the line and I’m not sure if it’s something that the university would ever really agree to collaborate on.”

The campaign launch garnered some negative comments from social media users who believed the Union’s approach to neither condemn nor condone drug use was harmful. One Instagram user argued that there was “no harm in reducing the medical harm of drugs but saying that the union is not condemning drug use is a big step too far.” Another voiced a similar concern “by not condemning drug use, you might as well be condoning it. There is no middle ground on something that serious.” Greenough argued that “if we did condemn drug use, that would be detrimental to anyone seeking support and it would further stigmatise, so while I do appreciate people's concerns, we are only attempting to have an open and objective conversation about drug use. We have to acknowledge that it is happening around young people, it is happening on UCD campus and if we were touting a very anti-drug use narrative and shaming the students that engage in the behaviour, it would cause a lot more harm than good.”

When asked about students who felt that the campaign misrepresented their opinions, Greenough said that “we as a Union completely understand that perhaps that approach wouldn’t be something that is up everyone’s alley and it is hard to please everyone, but we are acting on a mandate and we are mandated to support the students for sensible drug policy. A direct line from their mission statement is to neither condemn nor condone drug use by providing objective information, and that is really all we are attempting to do.”

Greenough also spoke of the sense of security and safety they hope to harbour within the UCD community, “we want to foster a sense of community - not that it is your obligation to look out for people, but you should want to look out for your friends and know the signs. The next step for me will be trying to recruit people for the Students for Sensible Drug Policy and get a committee going.”