Why We Need to Change Our Attitude to Drugs

If you scratch below the surface of Irish society you can be sure that you will find drug use not too far below. Whether it’s a group of 16-year-olds having their first joint in the park, a college student taking MDMA in a nightclub, or a heroin user injecting behind a bin, people from all walks of life are using drugs in Ireland today. Irrespective of people’s different political views this is something that is widely agreed upon. How to best handle this drug use, however, is something that is not always agreed upon.

Students for Sensible Drug Policy is an international, grassroots, student led organisation that’s main goal is to end the War on Drugs. We neither condone nor condemn drug use, however, we are aware that drug use happens in modern society and we attempt to protect the rights and give drug users the respect they deserve as human beings. SSDP have chapters across the globe from Washington to Nigeria, including chapters in DCU and UCC, among others in Ireland.

As a global movement, we are looking for a research-based approach to drug legislation to prevent more needless deaths and incarcerations the likes of which we are seeing at the moment, and have seen for decades thanks to the current, failing, prohibitive approach. For me, Students for Sensible Drug Policy is about a number of things. It is about removing the stigma surrounding certain drug users and empowering them to more capably battle the addiction they may currently be struggling to overcome. It is about respecting people’s abilities to make their own decisions around taking drugs such as cannabis and ecstasy, and allowing them to do so in the safest way possible. Most of all it is about preventing more lives being ruined as a direct result of the failed war on drugs through saving lives by giving realistic, practical advice on how to prevent drug deaths and by preventing needless incarceration of young people for possession of small amounts of a substance for personal use.

Within UCD, we are hoping to propose a mandate for the SU to support us as a group in a similar way to the UCD for Choice group among others at the moment. If and when this mandate passes in November we would hope to immediately set to work both pushing to achieve the overall goal of the SSDP movement to end the war on drugs, and to engage students of UCD by interacting with other societies and running events during which we could distribute harm reduction advice. Because SSDP is such a massive global organisation and movement there are no shortage of opportunities to invite guest speakers in and engage and interact with other chapters across the globe creating a global network of exciting young people trying to incite change.

The mandate, should it be passed, will be a continuation of some of the good work that has been done in UCD, and in Ireland as a whole in recent years. If you were at ‘The Ball’ in Dun Laoghaire you may have noticed some posters up in the toilets giving relevant and practical harm reduction advice to allow people who had already chosen to take drugs to take them safely. We would hope to continue work like this and help to further the causes in Dublin, and Ireland as a whole, at a time when supervised-injection centres are being planned, and the medical cannabis and decriminalization debates are more topical than ever before.

With the work we would hope to do on campus we’re looking not necessarily to change the world overnight or have an immediate, profound effect on the students of UCD. All I could hope for on campus would be to make small progress to remove the stigma around drug users and provide the education people need to stay safe. Working with the likes of Sesh Safe and Help Not Harm, who were present in the medical tent at Electric Picnic giving out harm reduction advice this year, we could hope to enable people to not only keep themselves safe when partying, but also give them the information they need to be able to help should someone they know come into trouble in a party environment.

The attitude towards drug users and particularly heroin users can be unacceptable at times and through discussion we would hope to stop the dehumanization of this section of society which in many ways is one of the few prejudices that is still acceptable in modern Ireland. If we do not tackle the problem of pushing people with a serious health issue to the outskirts of society we cannot expect them to be able to seek the help they need and the problem will never get better.

Over the last number of years studies have pointed to drug use being on a steady increase with no real sign of stopping. The prohibition era of the war on drugs has failed and it is time we look to a research-based approach to drug use as we begin to increasingly see that criminalizing drug use is only serving to create more problems than it solves.


Ailish Brennan – Students for Sensible Drug Policy

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