Free drug testing kits being planned for students at north's universities

Drug testing kits provided by Students for Sensible Drug Policy that were handed out at Newcastle University earlier this year. Plans are underway to make the kits available to students in Northern Ireland.
Paul Ainsworth

PLANS are under way which could see drug testing kits provided for students at the north’s universities.

Free kits could soon be offered at the students unions of both Ulster University and QUB, to help undergraduates make an “informed choice” on illegal drugs including ecstasy, cocaine and heroin.

Ulster University Student Council has confirmed it is “exploring the possibility” of making drug testing kits available as part of an awareness campaign early next year.

And in a separate development QUB is being considered as one of 10 UK campuses targeted by the Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP) organisation, which also hopes to provide free test kits for college students.

An SSDP pilot scheme saw students at Newcastle University handed free kits earlier this year to show what was in substances they were taking.

The kits use chemical reactions to change colours when in contact with illegal Class A drugs such as MDMA (ecstasy), cocaine, heroin and LSD, along with a range of former ‘legal highs’.

They can detect dangerous additives in pills including PMA and PMMA - chemicals often sold as ecstasy that can be fatal if taken in large doses.

The plan has been revealed following the death of 22-year-old Jamie Burns at a dance music event at Queen’s Students’ Union last month.

The call centre worker is believed to have taken two pills before collapsing and being taken to hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

Following the tragedy, the family of the north Belfast man warned others of the dangers of experimenting with drugs.

Ciarán Weir is SSDP’s UK executive director, and told the Irish News that the campaign to provide kits for universities was not about promoting drug use.

“This is about helping students who are going to take drugs anyway, make an informed choice about what they are doing,” said Ciarán, a postgraduate from Lurgan who intends to return to Queen's to study next year.

“We want people to be safe on a night out, and to know what they are putting into their bodies. It blows my mind that statistics show drug use is falling, but the level of harm caused by drugs is actually rising. Attitudes need to change.”

UU Students’ Union President Colum Mackey, said it was union policy not to "not condone the consumption of illegal drugs".

However, he added: “We recognise that ‘just say no’ campaigns don’t work. We’re not here to encourage students to take harmful, illegal substances but we recognise a small proportion of the population do.

“As a union we should be there to support them to make informed choices.

Our drug awareness campaign will focus on informing students about the effects and dangers of drug use as well as how best to minimise the risk for themselves and their friends.”

Both Queen's University and Ulster University declined to comment.


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