It’s the first day of the best years of your life… right?
5th November 2018
Well, for many students these are becoming some of the worst days of their lives, due to an increasing number of drug related deaths or casualties during student events. Manchester’s student union, for example, are feeling the increasing pressure felt by many other event managers to tackle this contemporary issue, explaining ‘we know some young people choose to engage in drug taking- to ignore that fact wont improve the problems’ (Abbit, 2018).
What’s the issue?
We all know that drugs are illegal and have been an increasing issue at student events, highlighted in recent media. However, this issue is actually improving itself with drug use amongst the student age group decreasing year on year. Is there any point in event managers continuing to waste precious resources on this or should they shift their attention onto issues within their venues such as alcohol and tobacco?
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The new norm?
Is it OK for drug and alcohol abuse to be accepted as just ‘part of student culture’? Freshers in particular are ending up in critical conditions following incidents at events, provoking a strong response from worried parents of students. Many have taken their cases to court over how little event venues are doing to protect their children when they start this new chapter of their lives, despite some choosing to consume drugs voluntarily. Therefore by opting for a ‘do nothing’ approach event managers risk severe legal implications as well as damage to their reputation that negative media coverage could cause.
Some student event businesses, however, have chosen to take matters into their own hands and address this taboo topic in the hope to discourage and support students, should they choose to take drugs during their events.
Taking a stand
Sheffield University recently received criticism following a controversial post on their student union website advising students how to safely take drugs, which some argued would encourage their students to partake in drug use. Others have seen this as a step forward – the university have responded to say that although they do not condone drug use, they are aware that some students will try drugs during their time at the university and believe it is important that their students are as informed as possible and encouraged to reasonable precautions.
The University of Manchester have recently launched a new initiative of drug testing kits so students can check whats in their drugs, encouraging students from not only their own university but any around the country, to have more adult conversations around drugs. Should event managers integrate a similar protocol into all events to ensure safety of attendees? Or can less be done to limit the damage on event attendee experience?
Infographic was created using my.visme.co
Where does the blame lie?
Who does the responsibility of students safety in regards to drugs at events lie with? On one hand, event managers and venues may adopt a strict zero drugs policy, as suggested by the Best Bar None Scheme implemented in Scotland. This scheme even suggests extreme measures to prevent the use of drugs at event venues such as the “removal of smooth areas” in toilets. On the other hand, managers may choose to follow a more lax approach in line with the HM Government 2017 Drug Strategy to provide dedicated drug resources to reduce demand.
Although addressing drug use can be challenging for an event manager, a pragmatic approach to managing drug use can save lives. It is important for us as event managers to explore the ways in which we can provide a duty of care to our attendees without inhibiting their enjoyment, but can this happy medium be reached, to please all consumers? Or will the issue of drug misuse be an ongoing challenge that can never fully be resolved?
Investing in training… does it really pay off?
Training for event staff can be a costly investment. In terms of student events, popular venues include bars and nightclubs in which staff are advised to follow the challenge 25 scheme to reduce the chances of underage drinking, however there are no legal obligations to train staff before serving alcohol as long as they follow the guidelines set out in their venue licence. Bar staff training if provided, generally covers how to deal with over intoxicated attendees but training rarely covers drug related issues. For small businesses who have a limited training budget, training in relation to drugs may be a costly venture which they cannot afford. How much pressure should be applied to venues to provide staff with this potentially life saving training?
As an event manager, would you jeopardise student event experience in favour of a strict zero tolerance drug policy or place the responsibility on attendees and conduct a more pastoral practice?
We would love to hear what think! Let us know your opinions in the comments below.