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Risk vs. reward: students discuss drug use

By Katie M. Taylor
On January 14, 2013

Beer and booze, drugs and dancing, partying and passing out-some students view college as an acceptable time to cut loose and experiment before going out into the world. Others address the life-altering consequences of substance use.

Recently, the Miami University community was rocked by the worst consequence of drug use--the death of a student.

Sgt. Jon Varley of the Oxford Police Department confirmed that the death of 21-year-old Miami University student Andy Supronas in December was the result of a heroin overdose.

According to Varley, increased prevalence of the drug is not exclusive to Miami.

"Talking with other officers from other agencies, it seems that everybody is seeing an increase in [heroin]," Varley said. "It's not just here in Oxford at Miami; it seems to be everywhere."

In addition to the recent tragedy, the university was reminded of students' substance use in 2011 when The Daily Beast ranked Miami 18 on the list of the country's 50 "druggiest" college campuses.

According to the Campus Security Act Reporting, the number of drug law violations on Miami's Oxford campus increased from 60 in 2009 to 96 in 2011.

Varley said these statistics accurately reflect his observations.

"It doesn't surprise me because it just seems that we've been seeing a rise in partying in general, and typically drug use goes along with that," Varley said.

A survey conducted by The Miami Student pooled the responses of 103 Miami students. Of those 103, 84 percent drink alcohol, 63 percent have smoked marijuana, 46 percent have taken prescription drugs without a prescription, and 31 percent have done all three-94 percent of those 32 students who do all three have done so regularly.

According to survey responses, students justify the use of certain substances-particularly marijuana and alcohol-- saying it's common practice in college.

Miami senior *Eric Metcalf agreed.

"I feel like college is basically your last hoorah of being young and free before going out into the real world," Metcalf said.

Miami Senior *Wanda Golden agreed. According to her, college has introduced her to many new experiences and exposed her limits.

Addressing students who experiment with harder drugs, Varley said even people with years of experience with substance use can't eliminate the risk of overdosing.

"A lot of [students] think that, when it comes to drug use, that they know what they're doing, that they're able to handle this or that," Varley said. "We have people who have years of experience with drug use and still [overdose]."

Golden said that students see substance use and experimentation as acceptable during college, but many plan to quit post-graduation.

"Once I go do whatever else I'm doing in life, [my substance use] will be less," Golden said. "It wont be the time and the place for it-this is the time and the place for it."

26-year-old Jordan Rice of Chicago, IL feels students are fooling themselves. Rice, who suffers from drug and alcohol addiction, travels to Chicagoland high schools telling students his story.

According to Rice, many don't consider the fact they may be genetically predisposed to addiction. That, along with pushing their substance use to the limit, sets them up for a life-long struggle, Rice said.

"Alcohol was my gateway drug," Rice said. "I started smoking pot, and after that I experimented with a lot of things. Went off to psychedelics, and ecstasy, and mushrooms, and eventually that led me to cocaine. That was pretty much my downfall."

Rice warned students who think they can party hard for four years and then simply quit; he knows from experience that isn't always the case.

"In the back of my head I always thought that, you know, I'm going to have fun now, drink, smoke pot, experiment and do what I want, and then I'll just quit," Rice said. "But I couldn't even stop for a little while. I'd say tomorrow's going to be the day, but tomorrow never came." After graduating in 2011, alum *Alex Lark also found cutting back to be difficult after his frequent consumption of alcohol and marijuana at Miami.

"Going to a school, especially like Miami, you're going out every weekend and once or twice during the week, and now six months down the road you're not going to school anymore," Lark said. "You're just slowly cutting back, you're slowly cutting yourself off. It's still a challenge even though it has been six months since leaving Miami."

According to Lark, he has begun to adjust, and feels that the majority of students are able to do the same.

Golden said she feels similarly. She acknowledged the tragedy in cases of overdose and addiction, but said they seem to be a rarity at Miami.

"You'll see people who will try things and not like it, you'll see people who will try things and like it, but it's always just an 'on occasion' thing," Golden said. "There's always that person who's going to get addicted, there's always that person who you can put on a pedestal and use as an example, but there's an example for everything out there."

Some students will walk away from college with no addiction or lasting effects of a substance, but others, like a close friend Rice spoke of, aren't so lucky.

"He was the type of guy-and everyone knows this type-the type of guy that has so much charisma and energy in him that you think this guy's going to the top," Rice said. "I watched my best friend kill himself slowly."

According to Rice, although it's uncommon for students to become addicted or overdose, it is not worth taking the risk. After his lifelong struggle, he can only hope that others don't make the same mistakes.

"If I could go back in time I would change a lot of things," Rice said. "When you're young, you feel like you have the rest of your life ahead of you and that you have a million second chances," Rice said. "You don't stop to think maybe this is something that could affect you for the rest of your life."

Additional reporting by Trevor Jordan.

*Name has been changed to protect student's identity because of admitted substance use.

*103 Miami University students were surveyed.

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