Minister of State for Higher Education, Mary Mitchell O’Connor, held a consultation to address the issue of substance abuse in higher education. Representatives of colleges, leaders from students’ unions, Gardaí from the National Drugs Strategy Unit, and individuals working on the issue of drug rehabilitation were all invited to the discussion. Minister of State for Health Promotion and the National Drugs Strategy Catherine Byrne T.D. was also in attendance.
At the meeting, Mitchell O’Connor called for action on the issue of substance abuse stating: “Students’ welfare is of paramount importance to me as the Minister Higher education, institutions have a duty of care to all their students.”
The Ministers noted: “While recently travelling to universities and institutions, I am hearing more and more stories of the consequences of students’ abuse of substances. Getting caught in a spiral of substance abuse can affect students’ health, undermines their academic engagement, inhibits their progression in higher education and sadly has resulted in serious injury, or even death.”
In February of 2019, Health Service Executive (HSE) and the Union of Students in Ireland (USI) launched a three month long drug harm-reduction campaign geared towards third level students called ‘Safer Students Nights’.
According to the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) and the National Advisory Committee on Drugs and Alcohol (NACDA), drug usage among people aged 15-34 has risen more than among those aged 35-64, placing third level students in a category that is at high risk for drug use. The most commonly used substances are alcohol, cannabis, ecstasy, cocaine, and amphetamines.
Studies by the EMCDDA and NACDA rank Ireland second in Europe for prevalence of MDMA, following only the Netherlands. In 2014 and 2015, 4.4% of young adults (15-34 year olds) in Ireland reported using MDMA in the past year. Young adults also saw a 2% increase in individuals who reported using cocaine in the last year, with 11% of young adults now reporting use. Cocaine is considered a “main problem drug in Ireland”.
Mitchell O’Connor argued that the issue of drug usage “will only be tackled effectively by everyone working together. The third level State-funded institutions have a responsibility in this area, and many have programmes running within their institutions.”
Citing her past campaign regarding student welfare, ‘Framework for Consent in Higher Education Institutions,’ as a success due to the support she received from students and other governmental departments, Mitchell O’Connor called for unanimous support and responsibility for addressing drug-usage in third level education.
“I am looking forward to discussing at this meeting, how we can further support our students’ ability to successfully negotiate the challenges they face around alcohol and drug use.”