The Students Unions of TCD, UCD, and DIT, in collaboration with the Ana Liffey Drug Project (ALDP), have launched a campaign aimed encouraging safer drug use among students. The “What’s in the Pill?” initiative, launched yesterday at Dublin’s Mansion House, seeks to educate students who take recreational drugs about how to do so responsibly.
While similar campaigns have been run by organisations such as ALDP before, this is the first of its kind run in association with third-level institutions.
Opening the launch, the director of ALDP, Tony Duffin, emphasised the non-judgmental nature of the campaign, which neither promotes nor denounces drug use. Rather, he claimed, it is a harm reduction campaign similar to HIV prevention campaigns from the 1980s. The aim of the initiative is to keep drug users safe, with Duffin comparing it to parents telling their children: “If you can’t be good, be careful.”
Speaking at the launch, Aodhán Ó Ríordáin, the minister responsible for the national drugs strategy, said that, while ideally he would like to see drug use decriminalised, that won’t be achieved in the lifetime of this government. Instead, he hopes to change the context in which drugs are discussed. “Young people can’t connect with the ‘just say no’ message because it’s a lie,” he claimed, continuing that: “Irish society isn’t saying no.” Rather than stigmatising and criminalising drug use, Ó Ríordáin wants to “empower” young people to make informed decisions.
The Lord Mayor of Dublin, Councillor Críona Ni Dhalaigh, further emphasised the practical nature of the campaign, saying that “in order to tackle the problems of drug use, we must be pragmatic and realistic,” and that the “just say no” maxim is “patronising at best, given the reality of drug use in our younger population.”
While she maintained that drug use is “not okay,” she also highlighted the importance of speaking about it: “When we feel uncomfortable about things, we don’t want to talk about them. When we don’t talk about something it becomes a secret, and secrets are very hard to manage.”
The Welfare Officers of TCD, UCD, and DIT, each spoke about the serious nature of the issue at hand. Lysette Golden of DIT claimed that drug use is “a topic people are scared to talk about,” while Clare O’Connor from UCD noted that the “sole goal” of the campaign was to “prevent loss of life.”
“For me, this campaign is about people,” said Conor Clancy, TCD Welfare Officer. “It’s about knowing that the people who take drugs are also the ones who make that decision. It’s about respecting that person, and arming them with factual information with which to make that choice.”
Speaking to Trinity News after the launch, each Welfare Officer expressed their satisfaction at how the campaign has been received and the positive reaction its message has had in the media. While there have been tragic incidents in relation to drug use in the past, the campaign has not been motivated by any particular tragedy, but is “proactive rather than reactive,” they said. Though the initiative is being run by Dublin colleges, they encourage universities and ITs across the country to get involved, as it is a problem that applies to all universities and one that “all students can take on board.”
As part of the campaign, factsheets and posters will be distributed on college campuses, which offer practical advice about taking drugs.
The campaign is being run in collaboration with the Ana Liffey Drug Project, a free volunteer-based “harm-reduction” service, founded in the North Inner City in 1982 as “an alternative to the dominant abstinence based approach of the day.”
Photos by Doireann Ní Chonghaile