BY NICK ZETTELL AND KATHLEEN PARKS
Published May 21, 2014
As drug policy reform activists interested in drug use and its effects on individuals and communities, we must express dissatisfaction with the information presented in “Hard drug use on the rise at the University,” April 16. While the reporter attempts to uncover information about drug use on campus do not go unappreciated, his coverage exacerbates harmful discourse on an already delicate and controversial topic.
The vague language and the disorganized manner in which the article presents its findings are cause for concern and serve to spread misinformation to our campus and a wider community. The article's attempt at investigative journalism relies heavily on narrow readings of statistics presented out of context, testimony from sources of questionable credibility and general misattribution of causes. Contrary to much of the evidence presented, the article insists there is a looming hard drug problem on the rise at the University.
The author does touch on several noteworthy issues including the rise of heroin use in the state, over prescription issues derivative of pharmaceutical marketing and the rising popularity of MDMA (referred to in the article as ecstasy and molly). However, he opts out of succinctly exploring these most salient issues in favor of a largely inaccurate personal accounts, painting a narrow picture of what is actually happening on campus concerning drug use trends. Contributing to the absurdity of these remarks is the author’s blatant failure to acknowledge three of the most commonly used campus drugs: alcohol, caffeine and nicotine. While these drugs are very different from heroin and MDMA, the use of ‘hard vs. soft’ drugs is polarizing and archaic.
The author relies on testimonials from several people who are not be qualified to speak knowledgeably on the subject, while simultaneously presenting the sources as credible. Many of the quotes used are inaccurate, biased and often contradictory to other evidence presented in the article. For example, Steve*, does not believe marijuana is the most common drug at the University. With nearly 45,000 students enrolled in the 2013 year, Steve’s* 40 monthly clients and immediate friend group clearly do not provide a broad enough scope for Steve* to comment reliably on drug use trends.
In fact, the UMich 2013 Student Life Survey shows that marijuana was used by 37.4 percent of students in the past year. The next highest scoring drug is prescription stimulants for non-medical use clocking in at 9.3 percent, a quarter of the use rate of marijuana. Radwin further solicits the personal account of another low-level drug dealer, a freshman who irrelevantly “claimed to drinks(sic) at least two times a week,” to opine on the cultural evolution which has led to the purported increase in ‘hard drug’ use. Incidentally, Taylor* the freshman, contradicts Steve’s assertions, stating he has observed minimal use of ‘hard drugs’ on campus.
Not only are these sources unreliable, with little foundation for their claims, but these accounts also prove to be dangerous. The author makes dubious claims about heroin’s purity and accessibility without providing statistical citations, and extensively quotes Taylor regarding advice on how to use heroin and touting its efficacy as an intoxicant. The article barely discusses Michigan Department of Community Health statistics clearly depicting a rise in deaths from heroin use and also the number of people admitted for heroin addiction treatment. The heroin epidemic this state is currently witnessing requires an emphasis on education, harm reduction and treatment for addicts, not advice on how to make your addiction more financially feasible.
Aside from these personal accounts, the article cites an instance in early April where a University officer discovered “what appeared to be a rock of methamphetamine during a routine traffic stop.” This anecdote ends here and the author fails to describe pertinent information such as the size of the ‘rock’, whether the person charged is a student or has any University affiliation, and does not even confirm whether the rock which “appeared to be” methamphetamine tested positive. This approach to journalism is reminiscent of the decades of uninformed media bias we have seen regarding coverage of drug use. Fear mongering is the end result and leads to further the stigmatization Jane* speaks against at the end of the article.
The author’s attempt at investigative journalism falls short of being either, but the Michigan Daily must assume accountability for publishing this problematic article on the front page and with a misleading headline no less. Furthermore, the editorial staff at The Michigan Daily issued a follow up article titled “Fighting Molly (and Other Drugs).” In this edition of “From the Daily,” the editorial board fails to recognize the misconceptions presented by the article “Hard drug use on the rise at the University,” and goes so far as to misinterpret his findings as indicative of “drug dependence or abuse.” In reality, the recent reports cited by the article, such as the Monitoring the Future study, explored “Drug Use in Past Year,” hardly indicative of dependence at all. Wolverine Wellness Director Mary Jo Desprez is quoted by the article as saying, “increases should not be made into a bigger problem than the data shows” and that “all drug use” is worthy of attention. We urge The Michigan Daily to consider these factors if he should choose to write on drug use in the future.
Nick Zettell is a 2014 University graduate and Kathleen Parks LSA senior. Both are members of the University's chapter of Students for Sensible Drug Policy.