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‘It seems more present now than it’s ever been’: Students, administrators talk drug culture on campus

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Students and police are in agreement that hard drugs, including fentanyl and other high-risk substances, are present on campus — an issue pushed into the spotlight following the January death of an undergraduate due to overdose

Still, in interviews with The Daily, students hesitated to denounce the use of hard drugs as a problem and expressed mixed feelings over whether the University’s handling of hard drug use was adequate. 

Students reported that they source hard drugs from other students or off the internet, indicating that the substances are accessible for those who want them. Student residential staff said they were aware of this but felt that staff training did not sufficiently prepare them to help students experiencing issues as a result of drug use.

The University prohibits all use of illicit drugs, with consequences ranging from losing housing to expulsion, and urges students to reach out to the Office of Alcohol Policy and Education for help with substance use, abuse, and rehabilitation. However, the Vaden Health website acknowledges that “a very small percentage of students regularly use illegal drugs or abuse prescription drugs” and directs students to CAPS for issues with substance abuse.

In January, Vice Provost for Student Affairs Susie-Brubaker Cole warned students that counterfeit painkillers laced with fentanyl, an extremely potent opioid, had found their way onto campus. 

“The [January] student death on campus was determined to be an unintended drug overdose, so ‘hard drugs’ is an issue on campus,” wrote Stanford Department of Public Safety (SUDPS) spokesperson Bill Larson in an email to The Daily. “We know that Stanford is not immune to the opioid epidemic across the nation.”

During residential staff training, student staff are given rough numbers about drug use among the student population, according to Marco Lee ’20, a resident assistant (RA) in Jerry.

“Overall the number the University gave for users of something like [cocaine] was 5%,” Lee said. “I think that shocked a lot of people, but I think that’s accurate. There’s definitely a presence.”

The University did not respond to a request to confirm these numbers.

Police lack a clear picture of the issue

While SUDPS believes that the use of hard drugs is an issue on campus, the department’s limited involvement in student life leaves it with an incomplete picture.

“The student community has been less receptive to SUDPS being present in and around student residences, so it is difficult to comment on what students are doing behind closed doors in their residences,” Larson wrote. “We believe students probably have the best ‘pulse’ of the use of drugs on campus.”

Larson added that while police-related contacts are an “imperfect measure” of whether or not students were using more drugs now than in the past, SUDPS believes students have been using drugs and alcohol in greater quantities in the last few years.

“Based on the level of intoxication officers see when responding to calls for service, we believe students are consuming greater quantities of hard alcohol and possibly mixing alcohol and drugs,” he wrote.

Still, it is uncommon for SUDPS to find or confiscate drugs.

“There have been occasions when community members have come across and notified public safety about possible drugs on campus,” he wrote. “It is not a common occurrence for DPS personnel to find or confiscate hard drugs.”

Larson emphasized that community members who do come across dangerous substances should contact SUDPS to safely dispose of it.

“Due to exposure and safety concerns, we ask individuals to notify DPS so we can safely remove the substances for proper disposal,” he wrote. “If anyone comes across hard drugs, don’t touch it, call DPS and have a trained professional dispose of the suspicious item. If properly sealed, you can also take prescription medication and drop it off.”

‘I have no idea where that stuff came from’

“I definitely think the drug culture on campus has changed since my first year,” said Schuyler Tilney-Volk ’20. “It seems more present now than it ever has been.”

Students were reluctant to condemn the use of hard drugs in general, even when they themselves do not use them. Data collected from this year’s Marriage Pact annual report showed that more students were okay with their significant other doing hard drugs than smoking cigarettes.

Most hard drugs find their way onto campus through student dealers, according to students, many of whom spoke anonymously out of concern for legal consequences over the purchase of hard drugs.

“There are known dealers on campus,” said one senior undergraduate. “Certain organizations seem to have consistent access.”

Students said that student dealers, in turn, source their supply from other dealers outside of campus.

“One of the [sellers] I know uses a bigger Silicon Valley supplier,” said another senior undergraduate.

Students who decide against sourcing drugs from other students have turned to the internet. One undergraduate spoke of a friend who would purchase drugs like cocaine online.

“I have no idea where that stuff came from,” they said. 

Staff raises drug training concerns

Student residential staff opinion was mixed on whether their training gave them sufficient preparation to deal with hard drug use.

Legally, student staff are required to report students to the police if the students are actively taking illicit drugs. If student staff are concerned about a resident’s use of drugs, they are supposed to report the resident to the residence dean, according to Stanford’s Residential Training Guidelines

McKinley McQuaide ’20, a former RA in Lantana and current resident computer consultant (RCC) in Jerry, said that dealing with situations involving hard drugs didn’t feature prominently in residential staff training. 

“They spent a ton of time talking about the dangers of drinking too much, and how we should count drinks … but when it came to harder drugs, it wasn’t that specific,” she said.

Angela Luo ’20, a peer health educator (PHE) and former RA in Florence Moore Hall, agreed.

“I feel like our training on hard drugs is severely inadequate compared to the amount of training we receive on alcohol,” she said. “This is understandable, as hard drugs are less commonly consumed … But even as a returning staff member, I still feel unprepared for dealing with a situation in which hard drugs are involved.” 

McQuaide and Luo both said training had discussed handling a “bad trip,” but not much beyond that.

“We did learn in a role-play how to help a resident who is having a bad trip, which was really useful,” McQuaide said. “But other than that, I wouldn’t really know what to do other than ask the [residence dean].”

“That role-play was a 30-minute session, with not much substantial debrief, and nothing to follow up either,” Luo added. 

Student Affairs spokesperson Pat Harris told The Daily that staff training in fall 2019 included “enhanced” alcohol and drug curriculum based on feedback from student staff in previous years. 

“Greater emphasis was placed on drug education, including marijuana, hallucinogens and stimulants, as well as mixing alcohol with other drugs and responding to bad trips and head injuries,” Harris wrote in an email to The Daily, adding that returning staff said that the content was helpful. 

Harris added that ongoing feedback from student staff is “invaluable” for future planning.

“When [residential assistant] RA training is next offered, we will build on last year’s session, adding focused work on prescription drug abuse,” she wrote. “All students, including student staff, are advised to call 911 for drug-related health and safety emergencies.”

Students express mixed opinions on potential University responses

Students had similarly mixed opinions on whether they wanted more anti-drug intervention from the University.

Brubaker-Cole wrote in January’s email that the University would be changing its approach to drugs on campus by incorporating a new online education module, holding forums with students and enhancing drug screenings through the Office of Alcohol Policy and Education, Residential Education and Vaden Health Center. 

Some students felt that their peers were not aware of the dangers of hard drugs.

“I think maybe the answer is more education about how dangerous these drugs really are,” said an undergraduate who also commented on how students acquire drugs. “I think that part of the problem is that we don’t know what we’re getting into like we do with something like alcohol.”

Some students expressed support for NarCan kits in residences, a nasal spray that can reverse an opioid overdose. The Undergraduate Senate in February tabled a resolution calling for placement of NarCan kits in all residences. The resolution was tabled in order to gain more input from the student body, consult with stakeholders and identify the liability of placing the kits in the dorms. 

“The NarCan kits would probably be really helpful and could save a life,” McQuaide said.

Other students said they did not want the University to become more involved.

“At the end of the day, we’re adults,” said a senior undergraduate, who also commented on how drugs get to campus. “We’re going to do things like this, and pushing it further into the dark with harsher rules won’t help.”

An undergraduate who also spoke about student dealers did not think the University had the power to create a more responsible drug culture on campus.

“I think that fostering a community where it’s okay to take precautions when using drugs is what’s important, and I don’t think the University can make that happen,” they added. “They shouldn’t hold our hand.”

Contact Danielle Echeverria at danielleech23 ‘at’ stanford.edu.

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