Universities and colleges will be required to provide drug and alcohol-free student accommodation under a new government health initiative, the Irish Times reported today.
The measures, which are part of a “framework on tackling substance abuse” set up by Minister of State for Higher Education Mary Mitchell O’Connor, will also require higher education institutes to provide alcohol-free social spaces on campus.
Mitchell O’Connor said third-level institutions have a responsibility to promote and protect the health and wellbeing of students.
“The harm experienced by some students through the use of illicit drugs is a threat to their success,” she said.
The new measures follow rising concerns over drug usage among young people in recent months.
Last year, Mitchell O’Connor convened a “rapid response group” comprising academics, gardaí, students and first responders within universities to draw up an action plan to deal with substance abuse on college campuses.
The group’s report called attention to a lack of sector-wide approach to the issue within higher education.
The minister said the new measures will ensure “all our institutions have robust policies” to tackle these issues.
The report also recommended that colleges be required to gather data on drug use on an ongoing basis to provide a longitudinal look at the scale of the issue. In addition, each college should develop its own drug and alcohol policy, along with an action plan to be supervised by a senior officer of the institution.
Other recommendations included greater consideration of safety issues relating to potential drug and alcohol use while planning all large-scale student events and and training for staff and students in how to deliver constructive advice, or “brief interventions”, to students.
Mitchell O’Connor said the data-gathering activity will represent the “largest most comprehensive sector-specific data gathering on the issue of drug use in higher-education in Ireland’.
A total of 14 higher education institutes have already signed up to partake in the survey.
“This will be a sector-specific, in-depth look at drug use and indeed non-use, among our students, looking in particular at their motivation to use and not to use drugs, the adverse consequences suffered, their willingness and capacity to change their drug use or to remain abstinent as well as the impact drugs have on their academic experiences”, she said.
Last year, a Cork Institute of Technology student died after taking an adulterated batch of ecstasy at the Indiependence music festival.
Nineteen-year-old Jack Downey died in Cork University Hospital on August 4th, two days after falling ill at the festival.