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Importance of Drug Harm reduction underscored by Covid-19

A study completed by UCC researchers has predicted that the disruption Covid-19 has posed to Ireland, will result in a projected increase in drug dealing and consumption. As a result of the pandemic, Ireland is likely to enter an economic recession, a period of economic hardship which relates directly to increased drug consumption and dealing according to research carried out by James Windle, Sinéad Drew and James Leonard on behalf of UCC.

A UCC student, James Leonard, conducted a study of drug users and practitioners working with drug users in Cork late last year. Mr. Leonard, who overcame a heroin addiction himself, has a Masters in Criminology from UCC and has begun working on a PhD. James interviewed eight people who had been drug free for over a year and six practitioners working with those using drugs in the City. The study, which was published in the International Journal of Drug Policy, found that problematic drug use is closely linked with economic deprivation and social exclusion. Most people taking part in the study also agreed that criminalising drug users did not deter people from using them.

Speaking to RedFM News, James Leonard says the sample size may be small, but politicians and decision makers need to take note of the results.

UCC Students’ Union (UCCSU) have also been addressing the issue of drug harm reduction. Last year, the Drug Harm Reduction Framework in Higher Education was released by former Minister for Higher and Further Education Mary Mitchell O’Connor. UCCSU Welfare Officer, Jamie Fraser, revealed to University Express that UCCSU have been working closely with UCC, as one of the only Universities in the country to launch the Drug Use in Higher Education Institutions (DUHEI) Survey. This is a survey supported by the Union of Students in Ireland (USI).

President of the USI Lorna Fitzpatrick said: “There is a huge gap in knowledge, in the area of illicit drug use among third level students in Ireland. The DUHEI survey and the data received, will assist the USI, Students’ Unions and Higher Education Institutions across Ireland, in developing services, policies and information campaigns for students who choose to take drugs.”

“According to the National Student Drugs Survey, 82% of students have tried illegal drugs, so this is a reality for third level students at the moment,” Ms. Fitzpatrick added. “With that in mind, it is crucial that we get as many students as possible taking part in this survey on drugs use, so we can attempt to understand how many students are taking drugs, see what kind of drugs students are taking, when they’re taking them, [and] where and why are they’re choosing to take drugs.”

The survey was rolled out in January 2021. Students are asked to ensure that they fill out this survey as this information will provide important national baseline information on the landscape of drug use among students and will contribute to the development of harm-reduction interventions and policies. All information provided in this survey will be completely anonymous and it will not be possible to track responses back to any individual or institution.

The UCC Society, Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP) is ‘dedicated to ending the war on drugs.’ The society conducted a survey as part of Addiction Awareness Week prior to Christmas, surveying what substances had been used by UCC students and the impact that it had on their physical, emotional, and mental health. 93% of students who completed the survey admitted to taking an illegal substance.