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Students for Sensible Drugs Policy (SSDP) is a grass-roots organisation fighting against the damaging stance most universities take towards recreational drug use. They’re partnering with Drugs and Me to support the circulation of vital, accurate harm reduction information across their UK chapters. Eleri Crosland, president of Durham SSDP, is here to tell you all about the incredible work SSDP do and how you can get involved.
Members of SSDP Durham back in 2019
Do Durham students even do drugs?
Every university has its own drug culture, even if some are more visible than others. Although my university’s reputation for recreational drug use is unlikely to ever rival that of big-city unis, such as Manchester and Bristol, Durham has certainly changed a lot since I first began studying in 2016.
Back in my first year, students looking to experiment with party drugs in a cool club setting were strictly limited to one student-run night per term which didn’t involve dropping on the night train to Newcastle. Media outlets were quick to label Durham ‘dull’ for its apparent low levels of drug use, and I remember being told by one parent visiting for an open day that they were keen for their child to choose Durham, just so they wouldn’t be at risk of falling in with a “druggy crowd”. But as Durham’s club culture has changed over the past few years - a thriving grassroots DJ scene has led to a significant increase in alternative events - students have become increasingly vocal about their relationship with recreational drugs.
Why Durham needs SSDP
In 2018, Durham’s Palatinate News conducted a series of interviews with some of the uni’s student dealers to get an insight into the uni’s drug scene, and a 2020 investigation found that 1 in 5 Durham students have used study drugs. Clearly drug use is on the rise. Drug-affiliated communities have also emerged in the form of the Durham Psychedelic Society, which was ratified by the SU in 2018. Students have also been known to participate in the Durham City Cannabis Club (interestingly, the drug was effectively decriminalised by Durham police in 2015).
Despite these significant changes within the student community and the city itself, the university’s zero-tolerance policy towards illegal drugs hasn’t changed. Since it was set up in 2017, Durham’s SSDPchapter has actively opposed the university’s drug policy. The university’s punitive measures deny students access to important information that could protect their health and safety, as well as the opportunity to discuss drugs in a secure environment.
From working within individual universities...
To facilitate this need for a safe, non-judgemental space in which students can openly discuss drug-related matters and combat this lack of formal drug education, our group has hosted a number of open discussion sessions and expert-led talks. Topics have ranged from addiction to how to stay safe when using drugs at festivals. Through our group, students can share their own experiences, while deepening their understanding of the scientific and socio-cultural contexts surrounding their preferred substances.
We also task ourselves with sharing essential harm reduction information through in-person leafleting and social media, allowing students to access us in multiple ways, should they wish to. Our partnerships with other student-led groups, such as Durham’s DJ Society, has cultivated a close-knit community of compassionate, open-minded individuals. SSDP Durham is committed to ensuring the safety of the student body and seeking justice for those who have suffered as a result of punitive drug policies.
...to operating all over the UK!
For me, getting involved with SSDP has been one of the most rewarding parts of my university experience. Not only have I stood up for student welfare within my own university, but I’ve also become part of an active, nation-wide community of fair-drug-policy advocates. We have worked tirelessly to expand and re-establish SSDP’s UK network during the pandemic.
Belonging to an international grassroots organisation with community and campus-based chapters operating all over the world is incredibly rewarding. There are various committees, each dedicated to fulfilling separate SSDP UK aims and objectives, from changing university drug policies to boosting social media engagements. SSDP UK network has not only succeeded in connecting UK-based chapters with one another, but has also provided an effective platform for activism, having hosted successful webinars for the #SupportDon’tPunish campaign and International Overdose Awareness Day.
A word with Dasha Anderson
SSDP UK is chaired by former Durham president, Dasha Anderson, who has played a key role in restructuring the formerly-defunct group. There is now a network of active committees within which chapter leaders, graduates and students currently lacking a university chapter can participate.
An MSc neuroscience student, Dasha describes her involvement with SSDP UK as an “amazing” part of her university experience, through which she has “learned a range of new skills and solidified [her] plans for the future”. She’s hoping to apply her knowledge of drug use and addiction to a career in mental health. Discussing her hopes and visions for the future of SSDP UK, Dasha hopes that the network will continue to grow, with more chapters setting up in universities all over the UK:
“SSDP has introduced me to so many amazing people, from meeting researchers and policy makers to making friends around the country and, in fact, the world. When Covid-19 is over, I can’t wait to physically meet all these amazing people! It’s been so exciting seeing people join and really throw themselves into what SSDP does, coming up with their own ideas and initiatives.
In terms of the future, I think SSDP UK took hold so quickly during the pandemic and to be honest, I never really saw myself having such a big role in such an amazing community. Moving forward, I hope SSDP just expands more and makes a mark on more universities and students across the country, ultimately helping to change the narrative around drugs both within universities and in society more widely.”
How does SSDP UK function as an organisation?
As of now, SSDP UK currently has a handful of active chapters operating on a university level, with other dedicated members of the network hoping to set up their own campus groups in the upcoming academic year. Iulia Vatau, a third year US history and politics student, founded UCL SSDP in 2019. She knew that setting up a university-based harm reduction and drug policy group can not only be of benefit to the student demographic, but has the potential to make waves in wider society, enhancing public understanding of drug-related issues. Iulia had this to say:
“Hailing from a place where drugs are very much a taboo, with little to no education or awareness on the subject of harm reduction and even less so on decriminalisation and legalisation, drug policy advocacy and reform have represented subjects far removed from my everyday life. However, once I reached university, my studies broadened my horizons to developmental issues such as crop eradication and urban violence, both generated and exacerbated by punitive and prohibitive drug policies.
Outside academia, I also came to be more exposed to the ways in which the current system impacts young people, leaving them vulnerable to the risks of the illegal market, whilst also offering nothing else but stigma in return. That’s when I came across the work of SSDP and realised I had to start a chapter at my university”.
Where do I sign up?
For those like Iulia, whose university isn’t currently listed as having a chapter on SSDP’s website, there is always the option of calling on fellow students, via other university societies or through social media, to start a chapter. Once you have managed to find a few people interested in harm reduction and drug policy willing to set up a chapter, the process is fairly straightforward - you just need to need to contact SSDP’s international office and meet at least two of the following three criteria:
- Receive official school recognition
- Hold regular meetings
- Attend national and regional SSDP events (such as conferences)
What’s in it for me?
For those interested in becoming involved with SSDP UK, whether by joining a national committee or even starting their own chapter, I cannot stress enough how much of a positive influence this experience has had upon my life. Not only have I enhanced my own knowledge and understanding of drugs in science and society, but I have also been lucky enough to have embarked on an amazing number of opportunities. They have allowed me to develop my skills and showcase my talents, all while working with an amazing team of wonderful people I wouldn’t have otherwise met.
Most importantly for me, SSDP UK is such a well structured organisation. I’ve never felt hindered by activist ‘burnout’ or troubled by organisational issues. Instead, our group delegates work to accommodate the specific needs and availability of individuals, ensuring that nobody becomes overwhelmed by an impossible workload. Furthermore, our realistic goals range from long-term to short-term improvements within our current university climate, meaning that our efforts never feel exhaustive or futile.
This post was written by Eleri Crossland, the President of Durham for Students for Sensible Drug Policy and a committee member of the SSDP UK network. You can find Eleri and her fellow SSDP UK members on instagram, facebook, twitter and TikTok @ssdpuk.
This post was created for informational purposes and is not a substitute for professional medical advice. All drugs pose risks, and the best way to avoid them is not to take any, but we understand that people still choose to. Drugs and Me exists to provide you with information about drugs, helping to reduce their harms based on the best evidence available. Take a look at our various guides to find out how you can stay safe.
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