student.union@newcastle.ac.uk

Harm Reduction

Here within the Your Voice team students are at the centre of everything we do. It is important to us that we take student voice on board and stay progressive whilst understanding your needs effectively.

Our Work

We have been working for many years on helping students in their life choices if they need support, information or guidance. We have worked within a harm reduction landscape either with student groups, societies or within our campaigns and democratic structures but we acknowledge that we can do better at listening to your call to action when it comes to drug use in Newcastle. Nadia Ahmed (Welfare and Equality Officer) began her term in office with a clear focus on the reintroduction of drug testing kits alongside a more informative wellbeing offer within the SU. The road to this becoming a fully holistic service is ongoing but progress has been made. Establishing and Chairing the Harm Reduction workstream with membership from key University departments and societies Nadia has submitted a paper to inform on the importance of harm reduction being threaded throughout Uni policy – more on this as progress is made. As well as this Nadia has secured funding for an additional Wellbeing and Support Coordinator in the SU to provide a future proof service moving forward, including harm reduction resources.

You can read Nadia’s blog, written in October, here.


At its core, harm reduction acknowledges that while improper use of substances carries a level of risk there are ways of reducing the likelihood that harm will occur. Our adoption of a policy of harm reduction is not intended to signal that substance use is safe, but to recognise that there are behaviours which actively increase the risk of harm. Instead, a policy of harm reduction recognises that education about these dangers and the availability of support can make it safer. It demonstrates a willingness to protect the health and wellbeing of all our students, not only those always making the safest choices.

Harm reduction refers to policies, programmes, and practices that aim to minimise negative health, social and legal impacts associated with drug use, drug policies and drug laws. It is grounded in justice and human rights - it focuses on positive change and on working with people without judgement, coercion, discrimination, or requiring that they stop using drugs as a precondition of support. It can be contrasted with primary prevention which tries to prevent people using drugs in the first place, or to stop them using once they’ve started.

Newcastle University Students’ Union (‘NUSU’) does not condone or encourage the improper use of substances controlled under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 or the Psychoactive Substances Act 2016. NUSU maintains that this behaviour will always carry some risk of harm to students. However, NUSU does acknowledge that students living in a vibrant city will likely find themselves in new situations and faced with new decisions. NUSU understands that it is unlikely that all students will always make the safest decision all of the time. 

While there is not a completely “safe” way to use controlled substances there are ways that increase the risk of harm. NUSU believes that a zero-tolerance policy can hinder engagement with services and information that may otherwise reduce the risk of this harm occurring. Our approach is therefore based in the principles of harm reduction and the belief that informed decisions can reduce the incidence of higher risk behaviours by students. 

The materials made available by NUSU do not constitute or replace medical advice. Students are also reminded that substance use may not only put their health at risk but could result in them committing criminal offences under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 or Psychoactive Substances Act 2016. The NUSU’s approach to harm reduction provides no defence to the criminal law.

As our work progresses we wanted to make sure students can get the help and information they might need. Below is a useful list of external resources and organisations, all are non-judgmental services and most are dedicated to reducing harm within drug use.  

Student-Led Society: SSDP (Students for Sensible Drug Policy) can be found here.

Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP) first formed a Newcastle chapter in 2015/16. The main aim of their initial campaigning was to introduce harm reduction messages and information alongside drug testing kits. 

They believe that if students are aware of the risks of drug use and still choose to take them, they should at least be fully educated on things such as dosing, excipients, interactions with other drugs (illegal, prescription, alcohol) and how these drugs actually affect the body. 

NUSU has partnered with the Student Health and Wellbeing students and NTaR (Newcastle Treatment and Recovery) to offer a confidential space to chat and get support on their drug or alcohol use. This is a free, non-judgemental service open to all Newcastle students. Contact CDC.union@ncl.ac.uk for more information.

University Student Health and Wellbeing Services (SHWS) 

SHWS provides free, confidential support to any student concerned about their own drug use or the drug use of other students. Their support ranges from, helping you register with a GP, to informal pastoral support via Listening Ear, to ongoing counselling, help to access specialist external support services. Advice on how to help a friend or housemate, action you can take to protect your mental health, financial support if drugs use has put you into financial hardship. Remember their services are completely confidential, unless you or someone else is in immediate danger, what you tell them will be private, so you can be honest with them about the frequency and extent of your concerns so they can best help you.

This section is provided to give information on harm reduction methods. Any legal information included in the Crew.scot links and resources reference Scottish law. As most of our students are living in England we recommend seeking legal advice, if needed, from Release.

  • Release is the national centre of expertise on drugs and drugs law. They offer harm reduction advice as well as free advice on UK drug laws.
  • Crew is a harm reduction and outreach charity based in Scotland - neither condemn nor condone drug use: they exist to reduce harm.
  • The Loop provides harm reduction advice and information, welfare support, drug safety testing and training.
  • SSDP UK also known as 'Students for Sensible Drug Policy' is the largest global youth-led network dedicated to ending the War on Drugs
  • Drugwise Promoting evidence - based information on drugs alcohol and tobacco.
  • Frank Honest Information about drug use.

Resources