UBC says it has drug testing supplies but the AMS wants it to do more to address the overdose crisis

The AMS is calling on UBC to do more to address the overdose crisis as the university says it has drug testing supplies available.

At the March 16 Board of Governors People, Community & International Committee meeting, Chief Student Health Officer Noorjean Hassam gave a presentation on UBC’s response to the BC overdose crisis.

When asked about UBC’s drug testing resources during the committee meeting, Hassam explained that UBC Health Services provides naloxone kits but that student groups prefer to distribute these testing materials themselves.

“We have heard from each one of those groups that they don't want to access drug testing strips from the Student Health Centre. They do not want to come to our Wellness Centre,” she said. She did not specify which groups these are.

"I'd be very happy ... to shift our approach if that's what the students groups were telling us," she added.

Amanda Unruh, health promotion specialist at UBC Health Promotion & Education, emailed The Ubyssey on behalf of Hassam and explained that Student Health Services has offered naloxone kits and training to anyone who might be at risk of accidental opioid drug poisoning. Unruh explained that it is up to students to “self-identify” as to whether they are at risk.

She said all residence advisors have received training on naloxone use and response procedures to accidental drug poisoning since 2017. In September 2021, however, an RA during the 2019/20 academic year told The Ubyssey that they had not received this training from UBC and purchased their own Naloxone kit.

Unruh acknowledged that students might be uncomfortable seeking out fentanyl test strips or harm reduction supplies on campus.

“The Wellness Centre and Nurse on Campus programs, located in the Life Building, have been designated as spots for distribution of test strips, and additional harm reduction information, as they are seen as lower-barrier and more accessible places for asking for more information,” she said.

In the past, student groups such as the AMS and Social Justice Centre have expressed that the university needs to do more to combat this crisis.

In a recent interview, AMS VP Academic and University Affairs Eshana Bhangu told The Ubyssey that simply making these testing resources available is not enough.

“[These testing materials] need to be advertised well to the student body, and they need to be widely available across campus. So, if a student wants to go and get one, it's not a big deal where they feel like people are watching them,” she said.

In addition to accessible drug testing, Bhangu said that UBC Housing needs to change its residence policy in regards to punitive measures against a student caught with drug possession. Currently, students can be evicted or have the police called on them if they are found possessing, using or being present while others are using illegal drugs.

“It's just not okay that a student has to worry about getting kicked out of residence or facing sanctions from the university when they have somebody around them who is [experiencing] an overdose,” she said.

On behalf of the AMS, Bhangu recently submitted a letter to UBC’s Board of Governors in response to the March 16 presentation led by Hassam. In the letter, Bhangu expressed her disappointment over the university’s lack of effort to directly take action to support impactful harm reduction initiatives on campus.

“[Students have] had to kind of take this on ourselves and lead the work in terms of harm reduction,” she said to The Ubyssey.

“The university isn't treating it with the urgency that it needs to.”

The Social Justice Centre did not respond to multiple requests for comment.