Our hunch proves correct: Students at Bristol definitely take drugs

I’m actually really proud of the story and investigations my friend Ben and I did here, so I made it the Epigram front page. 

More than a quarter of students at the University of Bristol claim to have felt pressured into taking drugs, an anonymous Epigram survey of nearly 300 students* has revealed.

The survey found that 77 per cent of Bristol students have taken illegal drugs for recreational purposes and that 89 per cent of those who took drugs did so whilst at the university. The results also reveal that 26 per cent of students have felt pressured into taking drugs and of those students, 30 per cent subsequently took them.

These findings come shortly after members of the university management – including the Vice Chancellor, Professor Hugh Brady – were quizzed on Bristol’s ‘rampant drug problem’ at the University of Bristol Question Time. At the event, it was suggested that some students feel ‘pressured into taking drugs.’

The university management, however, appeared to be unaware of such issues, saying they would have to ‘look into it.’ Yet in 2013, a national survey asking students at UK universities whether they had taken illegal drugs listed the University of Bristol eighth. The results, reported in the Mail Online, found that 75 per cent of Bristol students had used illicit substances.

One student who said they do not take drugs commented that not doing so made them feel like an ‘outsider’ at Bristol.

‘Most unsettling is the number of people who, upon coming to Bristol, had either never taken any recreational drugs, or had only used cannabis, who have now moved on to class A drugs,’ they said.

This suggestion is consistent with the Epigram survey results, which found 39 per cent of drug users have tried cocaine. The survey also revealed that only 7 per cent of students claimed that they did not know about the side effects of drugs before they took them. However, this figure appears to be at odds with the 27 per cent of students who said that had they known more about the side effects, they would not have taken certain drugs.

Students’ comments about the safety of drug use was mixed. One student claimed that if you ‘take part in horse riding you are more than 28 times more likely to be harmed’ than if you take ecstasy. Not all respondent comments reflected this sort of statement however.

‘I wish I’d known about the depression that come downs could trigger. I’m not sure I would have been so quick to try,’ said one student.

A spokesman from Anyone’s Child, a charity campaigning for legal changes in the status of drugs in order to promote safer drug control, suggested that there is ‘a need for accurate and honest information’ about the potential consequences of drug use.

‘We see the vast amounts of money being spent on punishment and enforcement and the inadequacy of prevention and risk minimisation education – it seems clear that reallocation is urgently needed if we are serious about protecting the health and wellbeing of young people. If your survey shows anything, it is that lots of young people are using drugs – and policy responses have to deal with reality to minimise any potential harms,’ they told Epigram.

The majority of respondents appeared comfortable with the number of drug users in Bristol and striking the balance between this and their work.

More than a third of students still said that they have regretted taking drugs at some point.

‘We don’t actively track the number of drug users in any way and the number of visitors to our Just Ask service reporting issues with drugs is very low,’ Sarah Redrup, Bristol SU’s Student Living Officer, told Epigram. ‘It would be naive to suggest that drug taking doesn’t take place at Bristol and I am aware that Bristol does have a certain reputation, but despite that, there is no evidence that I have seen to suggest that it’s any more of an issue here than anywhere else.’

Yet nationally, Bristol is often perceived as being ‘druggy.’

‘Bristol definitely has a reputation,’ one student from King’s College London told Epigram. ‘Drugs obviously do happen at other universities, but not on the same scale. When I came to a house party in Bristol last year I was shocked by how prevalent drugs were – in London they tend to happen more occasionally on certain nights out.’

nos capsules

nos capsules

Students from Cambridge, UCL, Durham, Newcastle and Edinburgh also reported that Bristol was seen as having a ‘popular drug culture,’ and suggested that although drug use takes place at their universities, it seems to be less prevalent. Bristol’s nightlife is often emphasised as a cause of drug use at the university and several respondents to the Epigram survey emphasised this point.

One student argued that several clubs ‘rely on a largely drug taking crowd,’ and that drugs have become ‘central to what many people would regard as “the Bristol experience.”’ It is not unknown for drugs such as nos to be available for sale at both private house parties and even in clubs in Bristol.

Indeed, according to Epigram’s survey, 58 per cent of students at Bristol have tried laughing gas. However, with 70 per cent of respondents claiming to have taken it, cannabis remains the most used recreational drug at the University of Bristol.

‘Following the recent Vice-Chancellor’s Question Time, at which concerns about drug use were raised, the university is carrying out its own enquiry to assess the situation,’ a spokesperson for the University of Bristol said in response.

‘We take all use of illegal drugs extremely seriously. If we find evidence of a student taking illegal substances then Security Services are notified and we have a range of disciplinary sanctions, which could result in expulsion. We monitor the scale of such misconduct closely and liaise with the police as appropriate.

‘We currently cover drug awareness in various ways during student induction and have for some time been planning a drug and alcohol awareness week in the spring term 2016. This is being developed with the Bristol Drugs project and in liaison with Bristol SU. Our Student Welfare Services can provide support to any students dealing with drug or alcohol abuse or addiction or feeling pressured to take drugs.’

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