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Hard drug use on the rise at the University

By Max Radwin, Daily Staff Reporter
Published April 15, 2014

*Names denoted with an asterisk have been changed to honor the subjects’ requests for anonymity.

Marijuana may be the only drug that gets its own festival each year, but it’s certainly not the only drug used on campus.

Over the last decade, the University has seen an increase in the prevalence of harder drugs, specifically prescription stimulants and ecstasy, while drugs like heroin threaten to boom in the near future.

University Police Chief Robert Neumann, who has been with the department since 1985, said he believes drug abuse on campus is a problem, and one that has worsened in his time at the University.

“We have seen an increase in hard drugs here,” Neumann said. “I’ve seen more than a few (instances) in the last three or four years. It’s not trending in a good direction when it comes to serious, hard drugs.”

“Prescription drug abuse has been a problem for a number of years,” he added. “But I’m seeing more and more of the kind of drugs that we haven’t seen in a very long time — certainly in my career.”

Steve,* a junior who claims to deal “THC-related” drugs — or drugs containing marijuana — to nearly 40 monthly clients, said he doesn’t believe marijuana is the most common drug at the University.

“If you count Adderall, Ritalin and that kind of thing, prescription drugs are by far number one,” he said. “There are lots of people who won’t touch weed and don’t like the feeling and they have no problem taking some Adderall or Ritalin.”

Though prescribed stimulants are popular both as study aides and party drugs, other substances are growing in popularity. Steve said acid is a popular experimental drug that students may try at least once. In early April, a University officer discovered what appeared to be a rock of methamphetamine during a routine traffic stop.

The University deals with very few incidents of illegal drug possession internally. In its annual report, the Office of Student Conflict Resolutions reported only 10 incidents of illegal drug possession for the 2012-2013 academic year, all of which were cases of marijuana. During a spike in overall illegal drug possession incidents between the 2010-2011 and 2011-2012 academic years — which dealt with 26 and 24 reported incidents, respectively — there were only two reports of heroin and one of ecstasy.

OSCR Director Jay Wilgus said the number of violations of the Statement of Student Rights and Responsibilities may not reflect increased or fluctuating drug consumption, but rather the level of enforcement in the community for a particular year.

Accurate statistics about student drug use are difficult to collect. The University relies on the Internet-based Student Life Survey administered by the Institute for Research on Women and Gender and the Substance Abuse Research Center to gain an understanding of what portion of the population is using which drugs and how many.

Since 2003, the survey reports that the use of prescribed stimulants for non-medical use has risen between 5.4 to 9.3 percent.

Wolverine Wellness Director Mary Jo Desprez said that drug trends are often associated with perception of risk: When the perception of risk of a drug goes down, usage goes up; when the perception of risk goes up, the use goes down. This public health model may explain the rise in prescription drug abuse over the last decade or more.

“Twenty years ago you didn’t see commercials about any drug ever,” Desprez said. “I would say prescription medications in general are much more marketed.”

Desprez said wide availability may also contribute to the rising trend in prescription drug abuse.

“You don’t really need a drug dealer,” she said. “You need a medicine cabinet in someone’s apartment.”

5.1 percent of male students and 4.8 of females taking the Student Life Survey reported using ecstasy — and/or MDMA, colloquially known as Molly — in the past year, an uptick from the 2.8 and 1.7 percent, respectively, that reported using the drug in 2011. In that time, ecstasy went from being the seventh most-used drug on campus to the third.

Desprez said increases should not be made into a bigger problem than the data shows, especially considering that drug use numbers beyond marijuana, according to the Student Life Survey, fall below 10 percent. At the same time, she said all drug use is worthy of the University’s “awareness and attention.”

With regards to ecstasy and Molly, she said the slow upward trend could be attributed to a similar decrease in perceived risk that led to an increase in prescription drug use. But for ecstasy, she said the change in perception can be traced to a cultural narrative closely tied to the music scene.

At the same time, usage of drugs like heroin and cocaine display no clear trend on campus within the last decade. Cocaine was reportedly used by 4.4 percent of men and 2.6 percent of women sampled in the 2013 survey, an increase from 3.8 percent of men and 1.2 percent of women sampled in 2011. According to the 2013 survey, heroin was only used by 0.3 percent of the student population.

Prof. Lloyd Johnston, who teaches in the Institute for Social Research and co-authored the Monitoring the Future survey — a government-sponsored report on adolescent drug use from 1975 to 2008 — said nationally, levels of cocaine use are currently low.

Amphetamines like Adderall are the most-used drug nationally among college students, which has risen in the past three or four years. Johnston said Molly is so new that it was not included on the 2013 survey.

He added that though heroin use is not particularly significant overall within the national survey, there are heroin problems in certain localities across the nation.

While the University’s campus is not currently one of these areas, many states, including Michigan, are experiencing an increase in heroin use.

According to data collected by the Michigan Department of Community Health, deaths due to heroin overdose increased in Michigan from 271 between 1999 and 2002, to 728 between 2010 and 2012. The number of people admitted for heroin addiction treatment rose from 6,500 in 2002 to 13,600 in 2013.

Desprez said heroin has not affected the University as much because there is still a high perception of risk, as well as punishment.

“The penalties are a lot different,” she said. “You get caught with a beer standing outside of a party — and you get caught with heroin? Really different.”

People often turn to heroin after abusing opiates like Vicodin, Percocet and Codeine because tolerance to those drugs develops quickly.

“You need more and more to get the same desired effect,” Desprez said. “That gets to be pretty expensive if you’re buying it. And if someone says, ‘well heroin’s really cheap and more powerful,’ you can see how (turning to heroin) is going to happen.”

Since the 1990s, heroin has become much cheaper and more potent.

Taylor* — a freshman who claimed to drink at least two times a week, use cocaine or Molly once a week and deal to 20 off-and-on clients — said the transition to heroin can be dangerously easy.

“You can buy a dose of heroin for ten bucks, $5 if you don’t have a drug tolerance,” he said. “Whereas the same high for Vicodin and Oxi would cost you probably $20 for Vicodin — which wouldn’t be as good — and Oxi, which is almost the same, for almost 80 bucks.”

Heroin is now coming in a cleaner cut than it ever has before. It can be taken without a needle — something that traditionally drove many potential users away. Relatively pure heroin is available to smoke or inhale rather than inject.

“You can smoke it too,” he said. “If you get black tar heroin you can smoke it and you can inject black tar. And if you get china white, which is the powder, you can snort that or you can inject that.”

Taylor agreed with the numbers presented by the University’s Student Life Survey regarding the low frequency of heroin use. He also agreed with the slight rise in Molly usage and, especially, the increase in students abusing prescription drugs.

“People feel more comfortable around prescription drugs, especially Adderall,” he said. “People think of it as a study aid, but if you crush that shit up, it’s a party drug.”

Taylor said he sells cocaine, Molly, LSD and some prescription drugs. Four of his clients purchase drugs from him in greater quantities and re-sell them to people within their fraternities. Though he said the use of harder drugs on campus is minimal, any upward trend could be attributed to the perception of marijuana at large.

“Now that the weed culture is becoming more relaxed, people are coming into contact with it more and therefore more people are questioning if everything is just as bad,” he said. “And I would like to say everything is not all bad.”

Desprez said identifying a geographic pattern of drug use applicable to social demographics — dorms, Greek Life and off campus, among other areas — is difficult to determine because the University sees so much turnover in student life.

“One floor can have a heavy party reputation one year and then the next year, a whole bunch of new folks move in,” she said. “That’s true about athletics teams. I think that’s true about a Greek house. But does one have enough years of that reputation that it starts to recruit people?”

Jane*, a freshman who claimed to have experimented with several drugs, said her impression is that the Residential College has more drug use than the average dorm, and most drug use is not happening in Greek Life.

LSA junior Tommy Wydra, president of the Interfraternity Council, said that there is not a drug problem within Greek Life at the University.

“Based on what I’ve seen it’s no where near as prevalent as it is at other campuses,” Wydra said.

He added that most drug-abuse incidents and prevention plans are handled internally by individual fraternities, though avoiding the illegal use of prescription drugs is part of the IFC’s sober monitoring training program.

Chief Neumann said that drug prevention is difficult because it requires follow-ups that can’t occur simply because someone is in possession of a pill bottle.

“It takes leg work,” he said. “It does take investigation and it’s certainly not easy to do.”

Neumann said the drug problem is not necessarily limited to students, calling it “a broader problem within our society.” However, not everyone agrees with this assertion.

“There are a lot of false things about how everyone who uses them is automatically a bad person,” Jane said. “I’m not addicted to anything. I know that there’s a lot of negative stereotypes about people who use them but I’ve had straight A’s this semester.”