Students who use drugs deserve your support, SFU

Other universities like UBC have a wide array of resources, so why does SFU not?

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Some post-secondary students use drugs, so why aren’t there more support services for them? PHOTO: Michał Parzuchowski / Unsplash

by Victoria Lopatka, Staff Writer

It’s an undeniable reality that some post-secondary students do drugs. Students may use drugs to keep up with a busy school schedule, due to social pressure, to manage stress, have fun at parties, or for other reasons. In a study of over 21,000 Canadian post-secondary students, 15% of respondents reported using illegal drugs, like cocaine or heroin, in the last year. Additionally, 15% reported misusing prescription medications, like pain-relievers or stimulants. 

So, why doesn’t SFU have better support for students who use drugs? The university offers support for many aspects of students’ lives like for religious needs, mental health, and sexual health. But, when it comes to substance use, SFU falls flat. The “Drugs and Alcohol” page on the SFU website offers resources to learn about drugs, overdose prevention, and suggests students see a counsellor or use MySSP if they feel their substance use has become problematic. 

The main advice is to call 9-1-1 or campus security if someone is overdosing. However, SFU security responses to health emergencies in the past have raised questions and some students might not feel comfortable relying on them when an overdose occurs. 

SFU Safety and Risk Services is expanding its current first aid course to include administering Narcan (medication for someone who is overdosing). But where are the drug testing sites? Drug testing resources? Support groups? 

UBC is a good example of a university supporting students who use drugs. Before Halloween weekend this year, UBC’s Social Justice Centre handed out fentanyl testing strips. Reportedly, they ran out of testing strips in two hours, demonstrating the need for such resources. UBC also has a Student Recovery Community which is a space for students in all and any phases of recovery, including harm reduction. UBC Okanagan has a Harm Reduction Team, which offers free and confidential drug-checking services to students. Other examples of support outside of a university setting include supervised safe injection sites and referrals to treatments like Opioid Agonist Therapy.

Support could be offered in two different pathways. Firstly, there could be support for students who want to stop doing drugs and recover — like treatment, counselling, and support groups. Secondly, there could be support for those who want to continue doing drugs and reduce harm while doing so — like drug testing sites, safe injection sites, and overdose prevention and response. Students deserve support regardless of whether they are trying to stop using drugs or not. 

Drug use is a highly stigmatized topic. More specifically, it faces structural stigma which is a form of stigma seen in large-scale policies, procedures, and opinions. An example of this is not providing high-quality services to people who use drugs, or not taking their concerns seriously. By recognizing and listening to the needs of students, the SFU community can fight back against such stigma and reduce potential harms individual students may experience.

Currently, SFU just isn’t doing enough for its students. Providing services and support to these students not only fights back against stigma and can reduce individual harm but is also a step towards making SFU a more equitable and inclusive community. Students who use drugs are students regardless, and deserve support from SFU.