According to the 2019 Annual Security and Fire Safety Report, drug abuse disciplinary referrals have skyrocketed since 2016 on the Case Western Reserve University campus. The report defines drug abuse as the “production, distribution and/or use of certain controlled substances.” In 2016, there were only 20 drug abuse-related disciplinary referrals. However, by 2018, that figure soared to 95 referrals, which is nearly five times higher than in 2016.
On campus residence facilities saw the largest increase in drug abuse referrals, while non-residence facilities comprised less than 10% of the cases. On-campus residence facilities constituted the majority of drug-abuse violations.
According to Dr. Sara Lee, director of University Health Services, the uptake in on-campus drug-abuse is just a microcosm of a larger national trend. In one University of Michigan study, 2019 saw a 35-year high in marijuana consumption among college students nationwide. Moreover, annual drug overdoses in America, including opioids and legal drugs, have risen more than twofold since 1999.
When asked to identify the root cause of the recent surge in drug abuse cases at CWRU, Lee responded, “A likely explanation for the increase of these referrals on our campus is this reduced perception of risk.” According to the University of Michigan, 75 percent of those aged 19-22 regarded marijuana as risky in 1991. In 2018, only 22 percent of those aged 19-22 regarded the regular consumption of marijuana as extremely risky. However, the short- and long-term health risks still stand. Stroke, temporary memory loss and heart disease are only a few of the numerous complications associated with marijuana consumption, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Lee observed that our nation’s changing laws contribute to the increase too. Eleven states have legalized marijuana for recreational use, and more than 30 have approved its use for medical purposes. She said that the combination of these two events has made it “much easier for people to access marijuana than a few years ago.”
Mental health also plays an important role in on-campus drug abuse. Lee noted that “there is a clear link between substance misuse and mental health issues in adults.” One reason could be that, as stated by the New England Recovery Center, substance abuse is the most common way to self-medicate. In turn, certain substances might only amplify feelings of sadness or fatigue. Thus, high depression rates among college students and poor coping mechanisms can cause drug use to reinforce depressive symptoms and vice versa. An individual may become increasingly dependent on drugs in an attempt to cope with depressive symptoms.
For one CWRU first-year student, Travis Dumas, the transitional stress that incoming freshmen feel is tangible.
“I feel like if someone has been away from their parents before, they will be able to adapt more easily,” said Dumas. “However, for those who have left the nest for the first time, it will probably take a while for them to fully adjust.”
For some, he said drugs might be a way of coping with the transition. Dumas, an Ohio native, adds that CWRU’s campus location might also contribute to these numbers, as he is no stranger to Cleveland’s troubling history of drug abuse. Drugs seem to be readily available in Cleveland, as there were almost 1,300 drug overdose deaths in Cuyahoga County in the past two years. Dumas acknowledges that Case Western’s location makes it easy to come in contact with an off-campus drug dealer.
Fortunately, confidential and free on-campus services for mental health and substance use are available. Students can go to University Health and Counseling Services from 8:30 a.m. to 4:40 p.m. on Mondays through Fridays, though services start at 9:30 a.m. on Thursdays. When closed, an on-call counselor or nurse can still be reached by calling UHS.