10/05/2016 13:47 BST

Drug Testing Kits Offered To Newcastle University Students

Campaigners have persuaded bosses to change policies.

Owen Humphreys/PA Archive
£3 drug testing kits are part of a campaign hoping to change the conversation around drugs at UK universities

Students at Newcastle University are being offered testing kits to check the quality of illegal substances, as part of an innovative campaign to change the conversation around drugs on campus.

The tests, which cost around £3, analyse powders and pills for harmful additives and chemicals in an effort to make them safer.

It follows a step-change in Newcastle's approach to tackling drugs on campus, which has included the softening of so-called 'zero tolerance' rules.

SSDP Newcastle/Facebook
The Students for Sensible Drugs Campaign has had success in changing the conversation around drugs at Newcastle

The drug testing campaign has gained widespread attention, with campaigners inundated with requests for information.

"I've been so busy answering calls," Holly Mae Robinson of the Newcastle chapter of Students for Sensible Drug Policy told The Huffington Post UK. "It's been great to start a new conversation about drugs."

Explaining the group's latest campaign, she said: "The new kits are a common harm reduction method.

"It's not condoning taking illegal drugs, but making them safer.

"The chemicals within them react to common recreational drugs and a colour change takes place.

"The difference in colours allows for a presumptive decision as to what the composition of a substance is - and how safe it is.

"It's not one hundred percent effective but it's a good indication."

Newcastle has recently changed its policies around drug use after pressure from student representatives.

Luke Allison, Newcastle students' union welfare officer, told HuffPost UK that the university realised zero tolerance might not be the best approach.

"The students' union was very supportive of this campaign, as it is for many student societies, but the university is also supportive of helping students.

"The way the university has changed its zero tolerance policy so that those caught with drugs in halls aren't automatically evicted is one example."

Instant removal could possibly prevent students with a drug problem from getting the help they neededNewcastle University

While a university spokesperson stopped short of describing the changes as an abandonment of zero tolerance, they confirmed that eviction is no longer an automatic penalty for those found with drugs in accommodation.

They said: "Previously, students were immediately removed from their accommodation if they were found taking drugs.

"Now the termination notice is suspended unless there is a second offence and the student is offered a support package from the Student Wellbeing Service.

"This is in response to concerns that instant removal could possibly prevent students with a drug problem from getting the help they needed."

And the university is clear in that it does not condone illegal activity.

Yet there's been progress in changing the discussion around substances at Newcastle.

"We've got to look at other ways to help students who take drugs," Allison says.

"The problem with a zero tolerance approach is that it dissuades students from seeking help - even calling an ambulance.

"We've even changed the posters to include how to spot an overdose. It's just more informative, helpful, and interesting to students."

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