There are many student drug interventions that can be used, some are unique to the university and/or students' union, dependent on their students and the needs that they have, but many are effective and receive good student engagement and outcomes.
One type of student drug intervention is communications.
Producing communications around drugs, types of drugs, drug use and its effects, addiction, where to seek support, polydrug use and more is a key way to educate students and offer harm reduction information.
Communications may be direct communications with students, such as emails or conversations, or it could involve social media posts or content being available on the university’s and/or students’ union’s website. It can also involve information being shared with students in an interactively, such as through campaigns, events and programmes.
Some examples would include incorporating drug awareness information in the freshers/welcome period, organising campaigns to educate students and discuss drugs, and delivering events and programmes with a focus on wellbeing and the prevention of drug use (e.g., wellbeing events during stressful periods such as exam times).
Examples of this form of student drug intervention:
University of Leeds
• Produced information linking substance use and mental health, such is available on the Drug Harm Reduction campaign resources page.
• The students’ union has published a link to an external website around the mixing of substances and the associated risks that this poses
• During the freshers/welcome period, various drug awareness content was shared with students. Such information is also shared and remains available on their websites throughout the academic year.
•Introduced a new module to their Starting Block activities for new and retuning students, which was undertaken prior to courses beginning. This module covered values and behaviour expectations, along with information on alcohol consumption, social norms and drugs.
Within the module, it included information such as:
“if you do choose to use drugs including alcohol, check in with yourself about your own reasons, if the impacts of your use are positive or negative for both yourself and the people around you – and that you are in control.”
“Drugs including alcohol can have both positive and negative impacts on: your social life, relationships, academic success, work, finances, other interests, physical or mental health”
“If you start to feel that you aren’t in control of how you use drugs including alcohol or if negative impacts are outweighing the positives, you can get support to think it through and make positive changes.”
The module is framed with the message of being kind to each other and the community, staying safe and healthy to thrive. The university and students’ union estimate that 6,350 students viewed the module over the previous two years, it has seen a 209% increase in student engagement from 2020 to 2021.
• Produced a Residents Guide for students living in university accommodation, within this there is information in relation to drugs. This information includes Accommodation Services Drugs Policy; harm reduction policy; where to seek free and confidential information, advice and support.
• Introduced a targeted drug harm reduction campaign titled ‘Let’s Talk About Drugs’, this is an excellent example of proactive communications. In collaboration with UWE’s Senior Drugs and Alcohol Practitioner, the students’ union created drugs harm reduction videos to distribute practical advice to students in a simple and accessible format. The student union’s president was included in one of the videos to encourage peers to think about safety first if they choose to use drugs and gave advice such as to ‘do your research’, and ‘start low, go slow’.
The university and students’ union used research considering their students to inform the initial three videos created. They found that the top three most frequently used drugs were cannabis, ketamine and cocaine, and so education associated with these would be valuable for students and they have intentions to extend this video campaign to cover more drugs.
•The university and students’ union has communicated information regarding external agencies that can provide drug testing kits to students. They signpost students to Wedinos, a harm reduction project that offers anonymous and free postal drug testing. This service has been communicated to students via the universities and students ’union’s drug and alcohol webpages (within the health and wellbeing section of their website) for students. There is also information available on the Students’ Union website and the “Let’s Talk About Drugs” video includes further information.
• The Students’ Union’s website has links to Drugs+me where students can find information and advice on mixing substances, including alcohol and drugs. The university and students’ union also created a blog post on mixing drugs and alcohol which was shared during the Easter holiday and promoted on their social media channels. SPACED (at UWE Wellbeing Service) shared an Alcohol+ series on their Instagram, exploring the interactions of alcohol and five other drugs.
• They have created and shared numerous communications, many via social media (including SPACED), relating to drugs and alcohol, and their impact on mental health. This has included information on support and help from UWE during Alcohol Awareness Week, advice around alternatives to lockdown drinking and the promotion of a regular training course on understanding drug use (including alcohol).
• The link between substance use and mental health has been promoted. One example of how they have done this is through sharing posts on their Instagram that discuss the links between mental health and other substances (nitrous oxide, alcohol, cannabis, cocaine, and ketamine) that are the most commonly used substances amongst the student population at Keele University. In addition to the slides on these posts containing information on the substances, there was information about where Keele students can seek support.
• Communications have been made available to students to inform them that they can get drug samples tested for free from Wedinos
• On the students' union website, realistic, non-judgemental information around drug use and the impact of drugs is provided. The focus of the information is to inform students of the realistic effects but also the health dangers of mixing specific substances. The information provided is based off of the information that is included on the Drugs & Me and Frank websites.
Information on the following drugs is provided:
Acid (LSD), Cocaine, Ecstasy, Heroin, Ketamine, Magic Mushrooms, Nitrous Oxide (NOS), Speed (amphetamine) and Weed(cannabis).
There is also information provided on the following:
how the drug is taken; time it takes to have an impact; impacts of mixing the drug with other substances; how it makes you feel / behave; addiction; duration; common risks; the law around that drug; support options in the local area and on campus.