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Student group presents on safe drug use practices

Students for Sensible Drug Policy reacts to cancellation of drug checking program

In a crowded conference room in Page Robinson Hall, Laurel McIntyre ’22, Abigail Gulchin ’22, Max Heller ’23 and Noah Mlyn ’20 presented on safe drug use in a culture that maintains prohibition — on campus, in Providence and in the United States.

“This presentation was formed partially as a response to our drug checking program being shut down last spring,” McIntyre said. “We used to have a program for students to test their drugs for adulterants, and it was really popular around Spring Weekend.” But just two days before Spring Weekend last spring, the Student Activities Office informed McIntyre and the other members of Students for Sensible Drug Policy that their program was a liability and therefore against school rules, The Herald previously reported.

“Brown shutting our program down just shows that they care more about their legal liability than the safety of their own students,” McIntyre said.

“Given that there are no longer any harm reduction systems (for drug use) on campus, we want to provide information on how you can protect yourself and inform (yourself) about drug policies that fall hardest on the most marginalized people in our society,” she added. “We want to provide a counterargument to the fear-mongering propaganda that surrounds drug use today.”

Students may still access the same testing kits used by SSDP through Dance Safe, a drug testing kit vendor. But Dance Safe testing kits are less readily available, and “the cost can be prohibitive,” McIntyre said.

Heller emphasized that “these kits are not one hundred percent safe or effective, but are certainly better than not testing at all.”

The students from SSDP also discussed harm reduction in drug use on a larger scale. Today, harm reduction in drug use “focuses on drug adulteration and the consequent overdose crisis,” Mlyn said. “Prohibition drives the market for illicit substances into the black market, where they are left unregulated.” It also becomes difficult to test drugs because the materials to test them are never provided. “We spend so much money on incarcerating drug users that we, somewhat ironically, don’t have the money to help those same people,” he added.

Fentanyl, a powerful synthetic opioid developed for extreme pain and often associated with cancer treatment, is an example of an increasingly common adulterant. “It has leaked into the drug market and is being cut into heroin to make it cheaper,” which drives drug overdose, Mlyn said, adding that the drug is also found in many other drug supplies such as cocaine and MDMA.

“We want to talk about what resources (you have) and what you can do to protect yourself,” Gulchin said.

“You need to know your rights,” Mlyn added, stating that both Fentanyl test strips and Naloxone, a drug used to reverse the effects of heroin overdose, are legal in Rhode Island.

“Marijuana is also decriminalized in Rhode Island,” Mlyn said. “If you have less than one ounce, and you aren’t driving, it is a civil offense, and you will not be charged with a crime.”     

Rhode Island also has a Good Samaritan Law, which provides legal protections to those who seek medical care for individuals experiencing a drug overdose.        

Conversely, Rhode Island also has a law entitled Kristen’s Law, which “is advertised as trying drug dealers as murderers when a user overdoses, but really allows any drug user to be charged with murder … Most people who use at some point either share or help people get drugs as well,” Mlyn explained.

On campus, students are subject to all of these laws, but have additional resources apart from the discontinued SSDP drug testing program. “BWell has substance and risk information as well as information regarding University policies,” Gulchin said. “They also provide an interesting service where you can speak with a health educator and make a plan if you are worried about your own or someone else’s drug use.”

Gulchin also referenced Brown Opioid Activists, a student organization that provides free Naloxone training sessions and distributes fentanyl test strips.

In referencing reform in the larger Providence area, Mlyn described efforts to legalize marijuana in the wake of Massachusetts passing such legislation last year. There are also efforts to legalize and use certain psychedelics for mental health treatment, he added.

“It doesn’t have to be this way,” Mlyn said. “The mentality is pretty engrained in America so that full decriminalization and drastic harm reduction measures such as safe injection sites seem out of the question.”

Mlyn went on to cite a number of instances in which decriminalization of drug use and harm reduction have worked to decrease drug-related deaths. Portugal, in response to their HIV epidemic, implemented widespread decriminalization and saw new cases of HIV decrease from 104.2 per million in 2000 to only 4.2 per million in 2015. “It is also important to note that there was a decline in overdose deaths, but that is not what the program targeted,” he said.

Mlyn also cited Vancouver as an example of where harm reduction measures were effective. The Canadian government developed a “government-supervised, government-run safe injection site, with health professionals there to give you sterile paraphernalia and allow you to test your drugs to make sure you know what they are.” This system has been shown to decrease overdose rates by 35% in the area around the injection site, he said.

“The important thing is we need political will,” Mlyn said. “It may seem clear to us that this is the right way to do things, but it isn’t for our parents. We need to make it a political priority.”


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