Students at the University of British Columbia who want to safely consume drugs have to travel an hour by transit to access a reliable drug-checking service in central Vancouver.
So a student group encouraging better drug policy is distributing an informal survey to UBC students hoping to emphasize the need to establish a permanent and reliable drug-checking program at the university.
Drug-checking is a harm-reduction service that allows people to determine what is in their substances, potentially reducing the risk of any associated harms related to drug use.
Samara Mayer, chair of the Canadian Students for Sensible Drug Policy, said the group felt a survey was an important step to support more harm-reduction initiatives on campus.
“We felt it was important to start to informally collect people’s opinions about drug- checking on campus in order to help gauge the need and acceptability of this service,” she stated.
The survey has eight questions asking students how they feel about having a free and confidential drug-checking service and whether or not they would be interested in using it.
Official results from the survey are expected in early 2022.
Drug users are more likely to avoid using drug-checking services if they are hard to access.
“There are services across the province, but they’re nowhere near as accessible or widespread as they need to be,” said Kevin Hollet, the associate director of communications at the B.C. Centre for Substance Use.
“The most successful harm-reduction services are the ones that are available at the lowest barrier. This means doing a lot of in-reach, where you bring the services to where the people are.”
There are currently a few drug-checking sites in Vancouver, but the closest one to UBC is located downtown about an hour away by bus.
Eshana Bhangu, the vice-president of the student society at UBC, has also stated the need for harm-reduction resources on campus.
“Normal students who are about to go to a party, if they are about to consume drugs, are not going to take a bus for an hour and then check it,” Bhangu said.
For students at UBC Okanagan, a drug-checking program already exists. This began in March 2021, using a model supported by the B.C. Centre for Substance Use, which includes distributing fentanyl test strips, benzodiazepine test strips, and Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy machines.
“This model could be adapted to meet UBC-Vancouver’s needs,” said Mayer.
For now, UBC Vancouver students can access fentanyl test strips through the Social Justice Centre, a resource group located within the AMS Student Nest on campus.
“When we had a pop-up test kit booth a few weeks ago, we were flocked immediately by people who were planning on using drugs during that weekend,” said Ishmam Bhuiyan, a first-year medical student at UBC.
“It was really heartening to see people taking care of their health and seeking out resources and also really interested in staying safe.”