Last year at Wesleyan’s Spring Fling, 12 students consumed a substance they thought was MDMA. It actually contained AB-Fubinaca — an MDMA analogue far more dangerous than the substance it’s designed to replace. The 12 students were severely affected, and three ended up hospitalized in comas, narrowly escaping death.
Fiascos like this happen regularly because MDMA is notoriously impure. Although pure MDMA, when used with caution, is relatively safe, the Drug Enforcement Administration found that in New York 87 percent of pills sold as MDMA actually contained no MDMA whatsoever. The remaining 13 percent were cut with potentially lethal adulterants such as methylone (bath salts), methamphetamine, cocaine and so on. Since the underground MDMA market is unregulated, students don’t know what they’re getting — some Yale students might even be getting MDMA from the same source as those Wesleyan students did.
Yale students use MDMA, especially at Spring Fling. A 2014 survey by the News found that 6.2 percent of students have used MDMA on campus on at least one occasion. Estimates from the Alcohol and Other Drugs Harm Reduction Initiative (AODRHI) place the figure closer to 9 percent. Odds are that most of them aren’t taking what they think they are. What happened at Wesleyan last year — or worse — could easily happen here.
The University’s zero-tolerance drug policies haven’t stopped students from finding or using illicit substances. But there is one solution that could minimize harm from MDMA use: drug-testing kits that alert users to the contents of a substance. This year, Students for Sensible Drug Policy wanted to distribute testing kits on campus, a practice that already goes on at other schools, including Ivy League universities like Brown.
For months, SSDP attempted to secure funding from the administration. Ultimately, the Office of General Counsel rejected our request out of fear that the University might be exposed to a lawsuit if a student used a drug-testing kit and subsequently overdosed. The tragedy of this decision is that students who make the effort to buy drugs generally do so with the intent to use them; now, a significant number of Yalies will consume substances without any idea of what they actually are. That’s a risk Yale seems willing to take to avoid a lawsuit (which it would probably win anyway).
We then offered to buy these kits with our own money but discovered a statute that stopped us in our tracks: The simple possession of a drug-testing kit is a class C misdemeanor in the state of Connecticut, which can even carry a penalty of up to three months in jail. These kits, which are easily purchased from reputable scientific research websites, apparently qualify as “drug paraphernalia” under Connecticut law.
SSDP pursued another route. We asked for a simple written agreement from the Yale Police Department, who have discretion in making arrests, that they would not arrest us for distributing these kits or our classmates for possessing them. When we contacted the police department and told them that roughly 100 students’ lives could be in jeopardy this weekend, however, the assistant chief of police had no idea that possessing drug-testing kits was a misdemeanor. After they learned this from us, they refused to protect students seeking to minimize harm from substance use from criminal charges, declining to offer an explanation other than “It’s complicated.”
As a result, despite months of research and preparation, students will be left in the dark as to what they’re actually putting in their bodies this year.
This Spring Fling, I will consume alcohol, which is addictive and lethal at relatively low doses compared to other drugs. Interestingly, a 2010 study published in The Lancet found alcohol to be significantly more harmful to users and society than MDMA. Yet, hundreds, maybe a thousand of you will consume this poison as well.
The main difference between these two substances is that we have access to a legal and regulated market for alcohol. We can check the labels on our bottles and see exactly what they contain, and then calculate how much to drink. When we go to College Wine, we can expect to get what we pay for. We are educated about healthy drinking by AODHRI’s preorientation programs.
On Saturday, however, many of our peers will also use MDMA that they purchased on an unregulated, illicit market from a seller who has every incentive to dilute the product to maximize his profit. Because of the unwillingness of the state of Connecticut, Yale and the Yale Police Department, students will not have access to testing kits, potentially the last line of defense from fatal overdoses. Yale’s only strategy now is to believe that a group of rowdy, college-aged adolescents will, against all precedent, suddenly obey its restrictions on what they can put in their bodies and hope for the best.
Annelisa Leinbach is a senior in Calhoun College. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org .