Drug use on campus persists

Four students share their stories of drug use on campus

According to the Globe and Mail, nearly 4 per cent of students take ADHD drugs without a prescription.

Illicit drug use among university students might be more common than our parents would like to think. 

According to the Canadian Tobacco Alcohol and Drugs Survey published by Health Canada in 2015, 11 per cent of 20-24 year-old respondents reported doing cocaine, five said they do speed, meth or other amphetamines, 15 per cent took ecstasy and 16 per cent reported taking hallucinogens.  

Despite being illegal, marijuana, opiates, amphetamines and stimulants are a very real part of student culture on campus. Although a large majority of students might never encounter them, these drugs exist within social circles across university campuses. 

According to a 2013 Globe and Mail article, nearly four per cent of students who have no medical prescription take ADHD drugs like Ritalin, Adderall or Concerta to cope with academic demands. Typically, students can fake ADHD symptoms to get the drugs under their drug plan. More commonly, they buy it from friends who have a prescription. 

In Canada, some students use these drugs to improve their concentration during the exam period, or when essays are due. 

While these so-called ‘study drugs’ are often understood among students as harmless, for many, the academic benefits far outweigh other side-effects. These drugs maintain their popularity as academic aids despite actually being addictive amphetamines with sideeffects very similar to that of cocaine. 

For many, drug use is simply recreational, and controllable, like alcohol. However, what can start off as just another way to let loose can eventually lead to some serious consequencesincluding  possible death. 

To understand more about illegal drug use at Queen’s, The Journal spoke to four students about their experiences.  

For Jonathan*, what started off as recreational drug use eventually developed into a very serious problem.  

Jonathan said his social life revolved around his drug use. “I found a lot of my social life, my night life, revolved around doing drugs at parties.”  

Despite seeming initially harmless, he soon found drugs were becoming a problem. 

“By second year it was very clear I was using drugs as a coping mechanism for some more serious issues going on in my life at the time,” he said. 

Drug use for Jonathan was a way of coping with severe depression and suicidal thoughts which stemmed from a psychotic disorder. Eventually, he was diagnosed with schizophrenia.   

“I would take drugs, including alcohol, and I would have mild degrees of psychosis that eventually turned into full blown things even when I was sober,” he said. 

Before his mental health issues were addressed, drugs and alcohol were causing other serious problems in Jonathan’s life. Academically he was struggling and he also found drugs were having an impact on his relationships with women. 

Eventually, Jonathan reached out to the counselling services at LaSalle. By talking with a counsellor, he was able to lay out a plan to reduce his drug use and get healthier. He has now been sober for eight months and is recovering from schizophrenia. 

For Nancy*, drugs are primarily a social activity. It wasn’t until she came to university that she started smoking weed. Many of the new friends she had met on her floor were drug users and she began to join out of curiosity. 

While the only drug she uses regularly is cannabis, Nancy also uses research chemicals as psychedelics from time to time. A friend on her floor showed her that you can order them online and she now has them delivered to residence. 

Although Nancy doesn’t consider herself to have any substance abuse issues, one of her friend’s struggle with a meth addiction made her more cautious. 

“It’s really hard because she’d always be like ‘I’m going to stop now,’ and then a week later she would relapse, and I just never knew how to deal with that personally,” Nancy said. “She was always too scared to contact some professional help because there was taboo around it, she was scared she would get into legal trouble.”

Like Nancy, Steve* said his drug use was primarily a social thing.  

“I would do [cocaine] on weekends, going out to clubs, not ever in the day … but like [I would] if I was going out to Stages or something and it was a big event.” 

Steve said he’s done a lot of drugs over the years, but it wasn’t until the beginning of second year that his use escalated. “I was going through a really bad breakup so I did lots of drugs to get over that.” 

Although he stopped doing cocaine, he said it’s normal for his friends to do it. Steve said friends are the only way to get drugs in the first place. 

“It’s about who you know. If you were trying to get molly or [cocaine], you would talk to [someone you know] and [they] would talk to the dealer.” 

He believes a dealer realistically wouldn’t sell to someone they didn’t know.

“If you came over, bought one or two times, and then this dealer sees you around, he’d be like ‘oh [her], I know her. But you need that introduction,” Steve said.  

While many Queen’s students will have a few drinks on a night out, Billy* prefers to do drugs. Even though he started at the age of 13 with opiates and amphetamines, Billy said most of his use now revolves around cocaine. 

While Billy enjoys his drug use and has no plans to stop, he urges for more caution and education. “I think there’s a big psychological component and you have to do a lot of self-reflection about how in control of your own mind [you are].” 

In addition to ensuring drug use doesn’t compromise his mental health, Billy is concerned about the recent fentanyl crisis. 

“What you can do is buy testing kits online and I just stockpile them in my room so that when I buy a new batch I test them to make sure I’m getting what I’m getting,” he said. 

In addition to testing all of his drugs for purity, he also keeps a naloxone kit in his pocket when he goes out. Naloxone kits are available for free without a prescription at all pharmacies in Ontario with an Ontario Health Card. He suggests anyone who engages in recreational drug use to carry a kit as well. 

“If [drug use] is something you are remotely considering, it’s a lifesaver,” he said. “It’s a lifesaver for your friend, it’s a lifesaver for you, so why not?”  

Billy isn’t alone in his concern about the increase of fentanyl-laced drugs. In September, Health Canada issued a warning for students to be cautious about abusing drugs and alcohol. According to the CBC, nearly 2,500 people died in Canada from suspected overdoses in 2016 alone. 

Contamination of products with fentanyl or other strong drugs mean even really small doses can be fatal, especially for first time users. 

Despite the fact that fentanyl-laced drugs have contributed to the deaths of several Canadians every day of 2017, Queen’s doesn’t have a comprehensive drug policy beyond the prohibition of the possession of illegal narcotics or controlled substances in the student Code of Conduct. 

Ron Shore, a professor in the Kinesiology department, urges students to take precautions when taking drugs to reduce the risks of opioid overdose.  

“The risks have never been higher,” he said. “If you’re buying any street-level drug now, you are at risk of contamination with fentanyl. If you think you’re using ecstasy, you want to be careful about opioid overdose.” 

He advises people to never take drugs alone and to carry a naloxone kit on your person if you or anyone you know take drugs. He also recommends avoiding all street-level opioids and to be cautious when taking MDMA. 

But most importantly, “just be thoughtful, like anything, you’re altering your consciousness so be mindful about the implications that can cause.”

* All names have been changed to protect the identity of students.

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