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Spike in substance abuse

by Lindsay Price

Drug and alcohol violations were the two highest criminal occurrences in 2017, according to statistics given by UT Campus Safety. There were 762 liquor law referrals, an increase from 654 in 2016, and 168 drug law referrals, a decrease from 188 in the prior year.

Violations of UT’s alcohol and drug policies are reported to the Office of Student Conduct, who assess possible interim actions. Tim Nelson, Director of Student Conduct, explained that the consequences for these infractions can vary from case to case. Disciplinary actions often depend on the specific circumstances, the type of offense and the severity of the violation.

“As indicated within the student code of conduct, standard disciplinary sanctions range from a disciplinary reprimand through expulsion,” Nelson said. “It would also be common for standard disciplinary sanctions to be paired with other disciplinary sanctions that are more educationally focused, like the BASICS Alcohol and Drug assessment and parental notifications.”

Gina Firth, the Associate Dean of Wellness, noted that drug and alcohol offenses are in violation of Florida laws and not just UT’s policies. She added that Campus Safety works with the Tampa Police Department to enforce the regulations.

“Students have been legally cited by law enforcement, and those that have been caught using resin have been charged with a felony,” said Firth.

According to the 2017 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, eight out of 10 substance users consume marijuana. It also found that the number of daily marijuana users in the United States has doubled over the past decade. Public opinion has pivoted away from viewing marijuana as harmful, with 22 percent of 18 to 25-year-olds report current usage of the drug.

Firth cautioned that the notion that marijuana is not addictive is erroneous. Its usage is associated with the onset of mental health problems among the college demographic and psychotic breaks in severe cases. She also argued that due to lack of regulation, the product could be contaminated with other substances, including other illicit drugs.

“It is unfortunate that many people now view marijuana as ‘safe,’ ‘natural’ and ‘medicinal.’” Firth said. “CBD oil (extracted from marijuana) has great healing properties. THC (the chemical that makes you high) does not. There is a lot of misinformation out there, a lot of glorification of the wonders of marijuana.  My personal view is that marijuana abuse will be the next Public Health Issue, comparative to drunk driving and tobacco use.”

Several studies corroborate her reasoning; a warning issued in September of 2018 by the Tennessee Department of Health stated that one in six teenagers who use marijuana will develop an addiction.

The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry advised that the drug has significant impacts on the brain’s development, referencing increased mood disorders and correlation to intellectual decline.

A 2017 treatise from the National Academies compounded these findings, linking marijuana usage to psychosis and an elevated risk of vehicular crashes. Marijuana is known to impair driving skills, as evidenced in Colorado by a 151 percent increase in marijuana-related traffic deaths since the drug’s legalization.

With the prevalence of the epidemic, the UT administration and the Hillsborough community is seeking not only to address consequences, but also to find solutions to remedy the problem. Firth is a member of the Hillsborough County Anti-Drug Alliance and its subcommittee, the Marijuana Task Force. On campus, she is the co-chair of the Coalition for Enhanced Drug and Alcohol Resources and Study. Both institutions schedule regular meetings to discuss the latest trends and to brainstorm innovative methods to combat the issues. She conveyed that student organizations such as Live Well UT and Disjointed have assembled separately to educate the campus populace on substance abuse and marijuana, and that the Wellness Center is taking strides to help students resolve their struggles.

“The Wellness Center offers assessment opportunities, one-on-one counseling and group education programs for any student that wants to take a look at their marijuana use,” said Firth. “We also provide these services for students who have been sanctioned as a result of conduct violations.”

Firth disclosed that the Wellness Center and the Office of Residence Life and Housing are collaborating on a marijuana educational module for the Residential Curriculum, and hope for the project to reach completion soon.

Lindsay Price can be reached at Lindsay.price@spartans.ut.edu

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