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Alcohol and drugs

Alcohol

Alcohol consumption becomes a concern when it is affecting a tutee's ability to pursue their University Health Centrestudies. It can be difficult to detect and in many cases it is part of a more general problem that the student is spending too much time enjoying a hectic social life. In extreme cases it can be a form of self-harm and increases the likelihood of potentially fatal acts. If Tutors suspect that the latter is the case, an early consultation with a counsellor or GP is advisable.

Otherwise, Tutors should discuss the matter with the tutee and perhaps agree an action plan for improving attendance, completion of work etc. Experience shows that a Tutor and counsellor or GP working together can usually achieve far more than either could alone and a consultation regarding strategy with support services, followed by an assessment and review of strategy with all parties, is often the best way to proceed, provided that the student will give consent. If this produces no improvement it may be necessary to initiate disciplinary procedures.

The last major survey of the University of Reading students' use of alcohol and illegal drugs was in July 1997. The Health Services Research Unit, Department of Public Health, University of Oxford conducted a very detailed survey which found that 75% of males and 69% of females drank regularly and that only half the males and two-thirds of the females were drinking within the limit recommended by the medical profession. Knowledge of safe limits did not correspond with actual behaviour. Since then consumption in the 18-25 age group has risen nationally and it is reasonable to assume that this has been mirrored locally.

Illegal drugs

If a tutee comes to a Tutor seeking help for a drug problem, they should be encouraged to see their GP and contact Counselling and Wellbeing. The Tutor is advised to consult with Counselling and Wellbeing staff and Senior Tutor. If a Tutor suspects that a tutee is taking drugs, they should discuss this with the tutee. If the tutee acknowledges that there is a problem, they can then be encouraged to go to Counselling and Wellbeing; it should be made clear to them that failure to address the issue may lead to disciplinary proceedings. If however the tutee denies taking drugs and there is insufficient evidence to pursue disciplinary proceedings, there is little that a Tutor can do beyond ensuring that the tutee is aware of the seriousness with which the matter is regarded and of the support services which are available. If the student's work or attendance is very poor, the Tutor of course has the option of initiating action for neglect of work.

Levels of drug use are defined as either 'experimental' – short lived, group based and fairly randomly chosen – or 'recreational', where it is regular, controlled use of a particular substance and not seen as a problem by the user. For a smaller group who are dependent, drug use will be more uncontrolled and increasingly central to their life. There may be psychological and/or physical dependence and normal activities like study are likely to be disrupted. For dependent users drug taking will become an isolated activity.

The Health Services Research Unit survey (see above) found that one in two students had experience of illegal drugs and one in five were current users. Almost all drug users (96%) had used cannabis only and the majority of these had used the drug before coming to university. Other drugs used included amphetamines ('speed'), ecstasy ('E'), acid/LSD and magic mushrooms. The great majority of drug use was recreational, taking place once a week or less. The pattern of drug-taking has changed since this time, with recent studies by the Department of Health and the British Crime Survey indicating that rates of use have doubled since 1997, with as many as 51% of 19-24 year olds admitting to current illegal drug use. The most commonly used drugs are cannabis, LSD, solvents and amphetamines. Ecstasy or MDMA remains popular and more cocaine and ketamine are used.

Tutors should be aware that 'soft' drugs vary in potency and some now available, for instance skunk and sensimilla are comparatively powerful, with growing research evidence of links to psychiatric problems.

Use of, possession of and supplying of cannabis remains illegal. Currently the police will often choose an informal caution as an appropriate response to detection of 'personal' use of small amounts. However, a formal caution – which involves taking fingerprints and the offence remaining on the record for years – is often used for young people. Larger amounts are deemed to be for supply and taken very seriously. Some of our own students have been jailed for supply of relatively modest amounts of cannabis.

In accordance with best practice the University has held extensive discussions with the Police about preventing, discouraging and managing the use of illegal drugs. On 1 August 2000 a formal Memorandum of Understanding on operational procedures concerning illegal drugs came into force between the Thames Valley Police and the University of Reading. Copies are distributed to Wardens, security, counsellors and others at the coalface but briefly the agreement provides:

  • Enhanced safeguards against charges of possession when members of staff are confiscating or collecting drugs or drug related equipment, which must not be destroyed
  • Enhanced discretion for Wardens as "occupiers of premises"
  • Clear procedures for liaison between the Police and security staff
  • Safeguards for students in that the student and a staff member should normally be present as witnesses when the Police conduct searches of student rooms and should the Police be called to a drug incident, all students involved shall be treated on the same basis
  • An undertaking that not every case of cannabis use must be reported to the Police irrespective of circumstances provided that the University's own disciplinary procedures are applied
  • Police understanding for the Government-approved approach the University takes to drugs use which is basically (a) students are encouraged to come forward with drug problems, with University GPs, counsellors and psychiatrists guaranteeing confidentiality and (b) an emphasis on education to discourage use, through information, persuasion, counselling, treatment if needed, all backed by discipline if this fails.

The University is currently seeking to clarify whether this Memorandum of Understanding still stands.

It should be noted that under the Terms and Conditions of Residence in University Halls a student may be expelled from the Hall if found in possession of drugs (or if evidence of drug use is found in the Hall).

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