Standing up to substance abuse

by Malcolm Meyer / Beacon Correspondent • February 20, 2014

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A recreational activity with risk.
A recreational activity with risk.

Even though he admitted to heroin use in the past, Philip Seymour Hoffman’s death seemed to come as a surprise to many of the actor’s colleagues and fans. From Ellen DeGeneres to Steve Martin to Elijah Wood, celebrities tweeted that they were shocked by the news. 

I found out about Hoffman’s passing through Facebook. In a similar fashion, just months before, I found out about a high school classmate that had also overdosed on heroin. 

Stars caught doing a variety of drugs and their consequential deaths are nothing new, and it is widely accepted as a part of the culture of Hollywood. Such is the case with college students. Parties, drinking, and drugs are almost ingrained into our view of college life through television and movies. Popular movies, like Spring Breakers and American Pie, glorify this lifestyle, often without fully explaining what can happen when drinking and drug use go wrong. 

Students need to stop looking at drugs as “part of the experience,” and instead confront their friends who are endangering themselves with harmful substances. 

The mentioned classmate from my high school was found dead by his mother in his parent’s house. By all accounts, you would never know that he was addicted to heroin.

However, many students will often know who is and isn’t doing drugs. Nearly one in five college students will have used a drug other than marijuana by graduation, according to the Spring 2013 National College Health Assessment. One in 100 will be addicted to a substance. 

In my experience at Emerson, it seems common to know of people using or abusing drugs and alcohol. However, it seems that the only people trying to stop it are resident assistants and police officers. But they only intervene or have influence once the student has been caught.

That is why peers have to step up and talk to their friends about the effects of their risky behavior. Even if a friend is just trying it out ‘one time,’ it could be fatal. 

Last fall, Molly came in to the national spotlight after a rash of people in the Northeast died from the illegal substance. The drug causes a feeling of euphoria by targeting the central nervous system, according to a CNN news report. Known as the “pure” MDMA, the active ingredient of Ecstasy, it is not pure at all. A CNN report found that in the last four years, only 13 percent of the Molly confiscated in New York actually contained any MDMA. Because it is synthetic and produced by mixing various unknown chemicals, it is nearly impossible to tell how much of a “dose” it has. 

Brittany Flannigan, a 19–year–old Plymouth State University student, overdosed on Molly at The House of Blues in Boston last September. Police say that it might have come from a bad batch, something that could happen every single time you take illegal or legal drugs. 

But perhaps students aren’t able to say something when their friends buy or use drugs because they might not know how to speak up. My friends and I know what to do in an emergency and know that we will receive medical amnesty. But we were told very little on how to stop the emergency from happening altogether.

College staff and students need to be more direct in giving resources to students on how to talk to peers. For example, during orientation week, some of the preventive information could have been presented better. The skit that orientation leaders perform about their different struggles with drugs, alcohol, or self harm seemed outdated. It has been used for years and should be revamped. 

The alcohol and drug policy should also be revised. It states that someone seeking medical amnesty more than once may not get it again. The college should recognize that this person may need long term medical or psychological help—denying them amnesty might cause their addiction to continue. 

When people are caught, they have to go through an alcohol and drug prevention program. I have known peers who have had to complete the program and immediately after, continued to do what got them into it. 

Maybe a peer-to-peer counseling option would be a better alternative. Perhaps it would be harder for someone to revert back to his or her destructive behavior if he or she understands who it affects directly, not some older adult who doesn’t know them personally. 

The only way the college’s administration can move forward and change the policy in a way that fits is to reach out to students directly. If Emerson’s administration was open to suggestion or an open forum to change policy, more people would be able to come forward to get help for themselves and their friends.