University warns its students over bad heroin after rise in overdoses

The Exchange at Falmouth University
The Exchange at Falmouth University - Hufton+Crow-VIEW / Alamy Stock Photo
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A Russell Group university has warned students against taking “contaminated” heroin after a rise in drug overdoses.

The University of Exeter, in Cornwall, put out an urgent message on Friday advising recipients who are drug users not to sample the substance alone and to carry at least two doses of an anti-overdose medication with them at all times.

The warning also applied to so-called “street benzos”, drugs often purporting to be Xanax and Valium.

The university told students at its campus in Falmouth that these and other substances had been contaminated, leading to a rise in overdoses in the Cornish town.

It follows recent data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) that showed deaths from drug poisonings in the county had reached a 30-year high.

Friday’s message advised affected students to “ideally avoid using alone, or use in a place you will be found, or use a ‘buddy app’ if there is no alternative”.

It told them to ensure a phone was always to hand, to sample any new drugs in low doses, and, if possible, to have a “sober sitter” nearby.

In setting out the advice, the university said it does not condone taking drugs and believes that “not to do so is the safest approach”, but wants to do what it can to keep those students who do use them safe.

Antony Blinken, the US Secretary of State, has warned of a deadly strain of fentanyl
Antony Blinken, the US Secretary of State, has warned of a deadly strain of fentanyl - EVELYN HOCKSTEIN/POOL/AFP via Getty Images

Street benzos, short for benzodiazepines, tend to refer to pills sold as diazepam (Valium), temazepam or alprazolam (Xanax). One of their principal dangers is that they often only contain a fraction of the chemical advertised, with the rest being made up of unknown substances.

Analysis by Avon and Somerset Police found that pills sold on the black market as Xanax contained only around 15 per cent alprazolam, while those sold as diazepam contained about 25 per cent of the drug.

The strength of the pills can therefore vary significantly.

There are also growing warnings that street benzos, alongside more traditional narcotics such as heroin, are being bolstered with new synthetic opioids such as Nitazenes.

500 times stronger

Last year, Northern Ireland’s Public Health Agency issued a warning that Nitazenes were making some street drugs “500 times stronger than morphine”, leading to multiple deaths.

The warning from Exeter comes days after Antony Blinken, the US secretary of state, warned a major conference that the wave of fentanyl, a different synthetic opioid which has devastated communities across the States, could be heading for Europe, as suppliers seek new markets.

The Exeter University warning read: “We’ve been made aware of a rise in the number of drug overdoses within the Falmouth and Penryn area in recent days.

“It’s thought that heroin, street benzos and potentially other substances have been contaminated.

“This is a risk even in smaller doses than usual.”

Alice Gregory, a law and business student at the university, said she was disappointed the authorities had not done more to condemn drug taking in its message.

“I think it’s terribly irresponsible of them [University of Exeter] to not tell students that they should not be taking class-A drugs, and that taking them is completely illegal.”

ONS figures for 2022 revealed there had been 56 deaths in Cornwall related to drugs, up from 19 in 1993.

Across the South West the substances most associated with drug poisoning that year were heroin and morphine.

A recent study by the University of Manchester showed that living in a coastal town, as well as the north of England, increased the chances of dying from a “death of despair”, understood as deaths from alcohol, drugs or suicide, which tend to occur in more socially deprived communities.

A spokesman for the University of Exeter said: “We were asked by the drug and alcohol support teams in Cornwall to inform our students about a rise in drug contamination and overdoses in the local area.

“The safety of our students is our top priority and so we followed the advice. We do not condone drug taking and have zero tolerance of any criminal or antisocial behaviour related to drugs, including the supply of drugs.”

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