A new report has found that cocaine is now the second most commonly used illegal drug consumed by college students, overtaking ecstasy. The Drug Use in Higher Education Institutions (DUHEI) report is compiled by a survey of 11,500 students from 21 Irish higher education institutions.

The report also found that over 50% of respondents said they have used illegal drugs while one third had done so within the last 12 months. Also, 50% of the students surveyed said that drug use was now a normal part of third-level student life while the same figure said that drug use had a somewhat or a very negative impact on their student life.

The report also examined the effect the COVID-19 pandemic has had on drug use. It found that one in three students had decreased their drug usage during the pandemic for various reasons. While only a very small amount said their drug use increased. There was also a gender breakdown which found that current drug use was higher for men compared to women at 25% and 16% respectively.

The breakdown of drugs consumed was cannabis (52%), cocaine (25%), ecstasy (23%), ketamine (16%), magic mushrooms (12%), amphetamines (9%) and new psychoactive substances (8%).

Responding to the report, Minister for Further and Higher Education, Simon Harris said the report helps us ‘understand the prevalence of drug use and the range of drugs being used by our students as well as detailing the impacts and effects, including harms caused by drug use in our student population.’

He said the data contained in the report will help to ‘map the extent of the issue and will help us to develop appropriate responses and monitor trends in drug use in higher education over the coming years.’

The report was led by Dr Michael Byrne, the health director at University College Cork who said ‘If we are to work with our students and our institutions to address this issue, it is vital that we understand the reasons why our students choose to take drugs or indeed choose not to take drugs; and to base our actions on data and evidence.’

The report comes just days after UCD Students Union launched its harm-reduction campaign. In a statement announcing the campaign, UCDSU wrote on their website that ‘UCDSU neither condemns nor condones drug use, but we are acutely aware that while in college, many students will experiment and try drugs. We want you to be as safe as possible.’

The UCDSU also said that ‘UCDSU is mandated to lobby for the decriminalisation of recreational drug use and the legalisation of cannabis for both medical and recreational use.’

Conor Paterson – Co-Editor