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Harvard's High Achievers

Twenty-four percent of undergrads admit use, on par with national numbers

By Elizabeth S. Zuckerman, CRIMSON STAFF WRITERS

It's been more than 35 years since Timothy Leary roamed Harvard's psychology department, introducing colleagues and undergraduates to psychedelic drugs.

But while the LSD-guru, who died in 1996, had become just another episode in Harvard's colorful past, the College still closely mirrors national trends of illicit drug use.

According to a survey conducted by The Crimson this month, nearly one in four undergraduates has used illegal drugs at least once while at Harvard, a figure on par with national and School of Public Health studies on college drug use.

But the results diverge from national figures when it comes to gender, and they also show a sizable difference in use across concentrations.

College administrators say they aren't happy with the news, but they accept illicit drug use as an inevitable part of college life, particularly one where the social scene is lacking. Meanwhile, students says there is little that can be done by administrators or peer groups to curtail drug use on campus.

High on the Humanities

While 24 percent of students reported drug use, only a scattered few acknowledged using cocaine or heroin. However, 5 percent of the 421 surveyed said they had used hallucinogens in their time as undergraduates. Twenty-three percent of those surveyed said they had used marijuana. The margin of error for all questions is less than 5 percent.

While a number of surveys have shown that men are more likely to use drugs than women, Harvard students of bothgenders are equally likely to have used drugs.

Of 204 women and 204 men surveyed by phone atrandom, 49 of each group reported using drugswhile at the College.

Concentration, however, had a strongcorrelation with drug use.

Greatly outdistancing their peers, 41 percentof humanities concentrators reported they had useddrugs at least once while at the College.

Natural-science concentrators reported 18percent has used drugs. In the social sciences, 24percent said they had used drugs. For these therequestions, margin of errors was less than 6percent.

Countering Nancy Reagan-era stereotypes aboutgetting in with the "wrong crowd," students whoreported using drugs were not any more likely thantheir peers to report having friends who useddrugs.

Students who had used drugs reported that, onaverage, 18 percent of their friends used drugs,while those who haven't used said that 16 percentof their friends have. The difference is notstatistically significant.

On Par With the Nation

Henry Wechsler, a professor at the School ofPublic Health whose work on the subject Dean ofthe College Harry R. Lewis '68 calls"authoritative," is quick to point out thatHarvard students' drug use is slightly below thenational average.

According to Wechsler's most recent study,which has not yet been published, 25 percent ofHarvard students reported using marijuana in thepast year. The national average is 28 percent.

But Wechsler downplays the significance of druguse on campus.

"Illicit drug use and marijuana use are muchsmaller problems on college campuses than heavydrinking. alcohol use and smoking cigarettes," hesays.

While national statistics for drug use haverisen, Wechsler's numbers for Harvard have gonethe other way.

Between 1993 and 1997, a national sample showedan increase in the use of marijuana from 23.8percent to 27.8 percent. At the College, reporteduse fell from 29.4 percent to 25.0 percent overthe same period.

Wechsler cautions against directly comparingThe Crimson's recent survey with his data, notingthat while his survey gauges use over the pastyear, The Crimson's survey measured instances ofdrug use that occurred on campus during one'sentire career as a student.

A comprehensive survey by the Core Institute ofSouthern Illinois University also points toincreased drug use on the national level.

Data collected form 89,874 students at 171institutions of higher education showed 31 percentof students had used marijuana in the past year.The Core Institute reported an annual prevalencerate of 8 percent for hallucinogens and 4 percentfor cocaine.

Diagnosis: Difficult

Dean of Students Archie C. Epps III says he is"troubled" by the survey results, and he isconcerned that students may be using drugs forlack of other social outlets.

Nodding to divergent theories that recreationaldrug use is either pleasure seeking orpsychological self-medication, Epps maintains thatan absence of social options on campus contributesto drug use at Harvard.

"There seems to be a different pattern of howpeople spend their free time," he says. "That freetime is not clustered on the weekend as it used tobe when I was a student. Attendance at footballgames is not a scene for social life as it oncewas."

Dr. David S. Rosenthal '59, director of theUniversity Health Services (UHS), expresses amixture of concern and resignation regardingcampus drug use.

"I think everybody acknowledges that it'ssome-thing that goes on at most colleges," hesays.

But, he adds, "it's of concern to us because weknow that the college behavior of students doesaffect their behavior later in life."

Rosenthal estimates that UHS deals withdrug-related incidents only once or twice a year.

While he calls that "one or two too many," hesays the administration has appropriate structuresin place to help students with drug problems.

Rosenthal points to resources for drugeducation and counseling at the University andbeyond, but The Crimson survey suggests thatstudents at the College learn about drugs fromother, less official channels.

First-years reported that slightly less than 5percent of the members of their social circlesused drugs, but seniors estimated that more than40 percent of their friends did.

Drug Free School Zone

Epps expressed particular concern at the ideathat students have easy to illegal drugs.

"Frankly, I'm not comfortable knowing thatthere are drug dealers around," Epps says.

But while two Currier House seniors werecharged with six counts of drug possession andintent to distribute drugs within a school zone inthe spring of 1996, Wechsler speculates that theCollege's location is more significant that thepresence of student dealers.

"Look at Harvard square--that's a place where Iam sure all sorts of things are available," hesays.

Police statistics for the first nine months of1998 find 121 arrests or complaints for the saleor possession of narcotics throughout the city ofCambridge.

Lewis says the College has been forced toaccept that an urban location means students haveaccess to drugs.

"We are well aware that marijuana is easilyavailable in the Harvard Square area and wesupport police efforts to control its sale anddistribution," he says.

Lewis says he is particularly concerned thatstudents don't know what they're getting for theirmoney.

"We have evidence that students who smoke oringest substances bought on the street locallycannot have any confidence about what thosesubstances actually are," Lewis says. "People aretaking a very dangerous gamble with their lives byusing these drugs."

Nia C. Stephens '00-'01, incoming co-directorof Project ADD, says Lewis' concern about studentsreceiving a mixture of drugs in founded.

"I have a friend that accidentally boughtsuper-grass--marijuana coated with PCP," she says,adding that her group uses its outreach to informstudents of these dangers.

Old News

Eric R. Ashley '00, co-director of Project ADD,a student peer counseling group designed to combatalcohol and drug use on campus, says theorganization seeks to educate students on theeffects of illicit drug use through outreach andother services, but that it is often a losingbattle.

"In terms of how to reach students onmarijuana: If I had the golden answer, peoplewould be knocking down my door," Ashley says.

Students who are caught using drugs on campusare subject to warning for the first offense andmay be asked to seek counseling, according to theHand-book for Students.

Ashley says that although Project ADD is theonly peer group that explicitly includes drugeducation within its mission, the group hastargeted most of its efforts to alcoholprevention.

Rosenthal suggests that drug use on campus isdifficult to address because, unlike drinking, itis covert.

"Most of it is concealed. Most of it seems tobe controlled," he says.

Rosenthal adds that administrators find themselves in a bind when it comes to combating druguse.

"We would like to teach people how to drinkresponsibly. To teach people about use of illegaldrugs becomes illegal," he says.

Students contacted said they were unaware ofany drug education efforts on the part of theCollege. But, they say, such outreaches would notbe helpful.

"I think that kids get enough of it in highschool that I don't think anything is going tohelp. They've already made their decision," says asophomore in Mather House.

An Adams student says she thought that forsome, college use was a natural reaction to morelimited high school experiences.

"I think it is a natural thing, anexperimentation that comes from students not beingexposed in high school," she says.

A sophomore, also in Adams, agreed that drugeducation in College would not be useful.

"Not at all," she says. "I think it's beenpounded into everyone's brains for so long."CrimsonMelissa K. Crocker

Of 204 women and 204 men surveyed by phone atrandom, 49 of each group reported using drugswhile at the College.

Concentration, however, had a strongcorrelation with drug use.

Greatly outdistancing their peers, 41 percentof humanities concentrators reported they had useddrugs at least once while at the College.

Natural-science concentrators reported 18percent has used drugs. In the social sciences, 24percent said they had used drugs. For these therequestions, margin of errors was less than 6percent.

Countering Nancy Reagan-era stereotypes aboutgetting in with the "wrong crowd," students whoreported using drugs were not any more likely thantheir peers to report having friends who useddrugs.

Students who had used drugs reported that, onaverage, 18 percent of their friends used drugs,while those who haven't used said that 16 percentof their friends have. The difference is notstatistically significant.

On Par With the Nation

Henry Wechsler, a professor at the School ofPublic Health whose work on the subject Dean ofthe College Harry R. Lewis '68 calls"authoritative," is quick to point out thatHarvard students' drug use is slightly below thenational average.

According to Wechsler's most recent study,which has not yet been published, 25 percent ofHarvard students reported using marijuana in thepast year. The national average is 28 percent.

But Wechsler downplays the significance of druguse on campus.

"Illicit drug use and marijuana use are muchsmaller problems on college campuses than heavydrinking. alcohol use and smoking cigarettes," hesays.

While national statistics for drug use haverisen, Wechsler's numbers for Harvard have gonethe other way.

Between 1993 and 1997, a national sample showedan increase in the use of marijuana from 23.8percent to 27.8 percent. At the College, reporteduse fell from 29.4 percent to 25.0 percent overthe same period.

Wechsler cautions against directly comparingThe Crimson's recent survey with his data, notingthat while his survey gauges use over the pastyear, The Crimson's survey measured instances ofdrug use that occurred on campus during one'sentire career as a student.

A comprehensive survey by the Core Institute ofSouthern Illinois University also points toincreased drug use on the national level.

Data collected form 89,874 students at 171institutions of higher education showed 31 percentof students had used marijuana in the past year.The Core Institute reported an annual prevalencerate of 8 percent for hallucinogens and 4 percentfor cocaine.

Diagnosis: Difficult

Dean of Students Archie C. Epps III says he is"troubled" by the survey results, and he isconcerned that students may be using drugs forlack of other social outlets.

Nodding to divergent theories that recreationaldrug use is either pleasure seeking orpsychological self-medication, Epps maintains thatan absence of social options on campus contributesto drug use at Harvard.

"There seems to be a different pattern of howpeople spend their free time," he says. "That freetime is not clustered on the weekend as it used tobe when I was a student. Attendance at footballgames is not a scene for social life as it oncewas."

Dr. David S. Rosenthal '59, director of theUniversity Health Services (UHS), expresses amixture of concern and resignation regardingcampus drug use.

"I think everybody acknowledges that it'ssome-thing that goes on at most colleges," hesays.

But, he adds, "it's of concern to us because weknow that the college behavior of students doesaffect their behavior later in life."

Rosenthal estimates that UHS deals withdrug-related incidents only once or twice a year.

While he calls that "one or two too many," hesays the administration has appropriate structuresin place to help students with drug problems.

Rosenthal points to resources for drugeducation and counseling at the University andbeyond, but The Crimson survey suggests thatstudents at the College learn about drugs fromother, less official channels.

First-years reported that slightly less than 5percent of the members of their social circlesused drugs, but seniors estimated that more than40 percent of their friends did.

Drug Free School Zone

Epps expressed particular concern at the ideathat students have easy to illegal drugs.

"Frankly, I'm not comfortable knowing thatthere are drug dealers around," Epps says.

But while two Currier House seniors werecharged with six counts of drug possession andintent to distribute drugs within a school zone inthe spring of 1996, Wechsler speculates that theCollege's location is more significant that thepresence of student dealers.

"Look at Harvard square--that's a place where Iam sure all sorts of things are available," hesays.

Police statistics for the first nine months of1998 find 121 arrests or complaints for the saleor possession of narcotics throughout the city ofCambridge.

Lewis says the College has been forced toaccept that an urban location means students haveaccess to drugs.

"We are well aware that marijuana is easilyavailable in the Harvard Square area and wesupport police efforts to control its sale anddistribution," he says.

Lewis says he is particularly concerned thatstudents don't know what they're getting for theirmoney.

"We have evidence that students who smoke oringest substances bought on the street locallycannot have any confidence about what thosesubstances actually are," Lewis says. "People aretaking a very dangerous gamble with their lives byusing these drugs."

Nia C. Stephens '00-'01, incoming co-directorof Project ADD, says Lewis' concern about studentsreceiving a mixture of drugs in founded.

"I have a friend that accidentally boughtsuper-grass--marijuana coated with PCP," she says,adding that her group uses its outreach to informstudents of these dangers.

Old News

Eric R. Ashley '00, co-director of Project ADD,a student peer counseling group designed to combatalcohol and drug use on campus, says theorganization seeks to educate students on theeffects of illicit drug use through outreach andother services, but that it is often a losingbattle.

"In terms of how to reach students onmarijuana: If I had the golden answer, peoplewould be knocking down my door," Ashley says.

Students who are caught using drugs on campusare subject to warning for the first offense andmay be asked to seek counseling, according to theHand-book for Students.

Ashley says that although Project ADD is theonly peer group that explicitly includes drugeducation within its mission, the group hastargeted most of its efforts to alcoholprevention.

Rosenthal suggests that drug use on campus isdifficult to address because, unlike drinking, itis covert.

"Most of it is concealed. Most of it seems tobe controlled," he says.

Rosenthal adds that administrators find themselves in a bind when it comes to combating druguse.

"We would like to teach people how to drinkresponsibly. To teach people about use of illegaldrugs becomes illegal," he says.

Students contacted said they were unaware ofany drug education efforts on the part of theCollege. But, they say, such outreaches would notbe helpful.

"I think that kids get enough of it in highschool that I don't think anything is going tohelp. They've already made their decision," says asophomore in Mather House.

An Adams student says she thought that forsome, college use was a natural reaction to morelimited high school experiences.

"I think it is a natural thing, anexperimentation that comes from students not beingexposed in high school," she says.

A sophomore, also in Adams, agreed that drugeducation in College would not be useful.

"Not at all," she says. "I think it's beenpounded into everyone's brains for so long."CrimsonMelissa K. Crocker

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