MEDANSKY: Audrey’s drug problem

Little Fables

What’s in a name? If your name is Audrey — and you happen to be a University initiative instead of a person — then the answer is quite a lot. That’s because this Audrey is neither Hepburn nor Horne, but rather the Alcohol and Other Drugs Harm Reduction Initiative at Yale.

Annelisa Leinbach_Illustrations Editor_Marissa Medansky_1011The program, properly abbreviated as “AODHRI” in print, is a branch of the Yale College Dean’s Office “dedicated to reducing the various harms — physical, psychological, academic and social — of drug and alcohol use among Yale undergraduates.” Although AODHRI was established in 2011, it has drawn recent attention thanks to Dean Mary Miller’s Monday email, which announced the creation of five new initiatives aimed at reducing high-risk drinking in the College.

Clicking around AODHRI’s website, you’ll find a lot of information about alcohol: imbibing it, avoiding it and regulating its consumption. Special sections are devoted to party-worthy nonalcoholic beverages (think Shirley Temples) and tips for planning healthy gatherings. (“Choose the music strategically,” reads one suggestion.)

In contrast, those titular “other drugs” are mentioned only briefly. A page about Yale culture features several short paragraphs on “Academics & adderall [sic],” emphasizing that the drug can produce “mixed” (and thereby counterproductive) effects. Adderall is mentioned again on a nearby page of frequently asked questions, along with one FAQ about marijuana. But these blurbs are hardly substantial. Alcohol is the star of AODHRI’s show, and “other” drugs are just that.

This imbalance is largely justified. More than any other substance, alcohol is a major presence at universities. The 2012 National Survey on Drug Use and Health found that 60.3 percent of college students nationwide consumed alcohol — and according to University findings, Yale’s drinking rate is higher than the national average. Our campus, like most, is awash in booze, and it makes sense to address its problems in a manner commensurate to their existence.

But amidst this alcoholic deluge, other drugs do exist. A 2011 Yale Herald article reported that 34.6 percent of undergraduate survey respondents had tried marijuana “more than once or twice.” Over 10 percent of respondents said they’d taken prescription medications without a prescription, and almost 8 percent admitted to having tried drugs like cocaine, ecstasy and LSD.

In other words, if the University planned a dinner solely for its undergraduate drug users, Yale Dining would need to reopen Commons.

If students are using drugs, it’s only logical that they would want to talk — along with their friends and classmates — about using these substances safely. In fact, we can already see the demand for this kind of conversation. Even at the end of shopping period, students crammed the aisles of “Drugs, Brain and Behavior,” a capped psychology course with an impressive 154 students.

Still, true harm reduction requires more pervasive and widespread education. Therefore, in order to fulfill the entirety of its mandate, AODHRI must promote a greater drug-related dialogue at on campus. The University cannot absolve itself of its obligation in furthering its stated goal of student safety.

What might these conversations look like? For one thing, they’d be rational and fact-based. The last thing we need is another “just say no” campaign. The administration should acknowledge the inevitability of student drug use, just as underage drinking is addressed without being condoned. In addition to consolidating information on the AODHRI website, events like Spring Fling would be appropriate times to disseminate harm reduction-related facts. A few helpful hyperlinks would go a long way to ensure student safety. (This year especially, let’s remember that Chance’s “Acid Rap” isn’t about the pH scale.)

What’s more, in its efforts to clarify and unify University alcohol policy, Yale should also address the differences between drug and alcohol policy on campus. How do sanctions differ for drug and alcohol-related offenses? Yale can answer this question in any number of ways, including by establishing harsher sanctions for drug-related offenses. But in this case, the University has a great opportunity to establish itself as a leader in smart, science-minded drug policy. In 2002, Yale set a national example by instituting a policy that would reimburse students who had lost their federal financial aid under the drug-free provision of the Higher Education Act. Now, as our campus reflects on best practices and strategies for alcohol regulation, a reconsideration of drug policy seems also in order.

AODHRI doesn’t need to be Hempfest to be effective. There’s a happy medium between the status quo of virtual silence and the inappropriate overkill of all-out endorsement. With time, honesty and conversation, we as a campus can find that balance.

Marissa Medansky is a junior in Morse College and a former opinion editor for the News. Contact her at marissa.medansky@yale.edu .

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