Adam Pulver | Unintended Consequences

I do not think I have ever written a column inspired by another column that appeared in The Tufts Daily, but this week I am compelled to react to Evan Cochran’s column (09/30) about cocaine use at Tufts. Highlighting the dangers of cocaine and Mr. Cochran’s apathy towards said dangers is too obvious for this space though. The very first line of Mr. Cochran’s column is the problem that I care to discuss: “Tufts University has a serious cocaine problem.”

As a senior, this is the first time I have ever seen or heard any sort of acknowledgement of cocaine use here at Tufts, outside casual conversation amongst students. The problem of cocaine use at Tufts, (or at any of our peer institutions where it exists), is a silent one, literally and figuratively. Nearly all conversation and interventions on drug use on campus relate to alcohol, and it is fairly easy to understand why. On any given weekend, there is a greater number of students under the influence of alcohol than using cocaine. But the harm to those students who are using cocaine far exceeds the harm that most students using alcohol will ever incur. Cocaine is extremely addictive, and its users often build tolerances and need to use larger and larger amounts in order to achieve a high.

The harm to individual users rarely governs drug policy in this country, though. Instead of the problem of drug use, we are overwhelmingly concerned with its symptoms. At Tufts, and in society in general, we tend to treat these symptoms as problems in and of themselves, often at the cost of effective policy.

Tufts’ alcohol policy is a prime example of this paradigm. Over the past two years, the University’s “crackdown” on drinking has done little to change the overall prevalence of drinking and the incidence of drinking-related injuries on campus. However, it has reduced the number of loud parties on Professors’ Row, the number of beer cans strewn across the President’s Lawn and the number of drunken people in West Hall on the Naked Quad Run.

While none of these reductions are negative, there have been other serious unintended consequences of such brilliant policies as threatening “well-behaved” fraternity houses with loss of their housing licenses, “banning” first-year students from fraternity parties during orientation and herding students like cattle into and out of West Hall (with Krispy Kremes outside!) during NQR. More and more underclassmen are drinking in their dorms, as testified to by informal evidence and TEMS reports. In this environment, hard alcohol use dominates, and access is unfettered by lines to a keg. Distractions in the form of dancing next to a cute boy/girl are absent. Drinking becomes THE activity, instead of one of several.

So why do we continue these policies? Because of our definition of the problem of alcohol use. The problem is not that people are drinking, or even that underage students are drinking. The problem is that drunken students bother our oh-so-fragile neighbors in Somerville. Trustees see drunken naked students, and that drinking sometimes ends in vandalism or personal injury. (Yes, only sometimes, because if you add up the number of students drinking on a given weekend night, the percentage involved in serious problems is minute.)

We do not attempt to address the issue of why students are drinking. Part of this is because we know there is little we can do. A common theory in political science is that issues do not become serious problems unless there is something we can do about them. Tufts’ alcohol-use rates do not stand out amongst other schools. In the United States (Brigham Young University excepting) alcohol is part of the college experience. But rather than accepting this and teaching students to drink responsibly, we keep our students drinking in enclosed dorm rooms and off the streets.

The “problem” of cocaine does not exist. Crack vials are not strewn all over Professors Row on Sunday mornings. We have yet to have a cocaine overdose. Tufts’ student coke addicts are not robbing convenience stores throughout Somerville and Medford.

But why do problems have to reach this level before we concern ourselves with them? Shouldn’t the use of cocaine on campus be a concern in and of itself? While it is hard to get data on any illicit drug use, we know that there is cocaine use at Tufts, and we even know where it occurs.

American health policy has long been embodied in the curative paradigm, where we treat direct health problems instead of acknowledging risk factors and working to prevent said problems from ever emerging. The college health world has been evolving away from this of late. Unfortunately, Tufts remains behind the trend, despite our proclaimed commitment to health and wellness, in that we have no dedicated health education personnel. As other schools create wellness centers, acknowledging the interaction between alcohol and drug use, mental health, disordered eating and physical fitness, we remain compartmentalized, wearing blinders.

Our lack of coordination is astounding and dangerous. There are health programs going on on-campus without any medical input. We have eating-disordered students teaching others about the dangers of obesity as they continue to destroy their own insides with a lack of caloric intake. We have counselors working with those upset with their bodies unaware of the individualized fitness programs available at the gym. And events like Naked Quad Run are planned with complete disregard of the experiences and research of health professionals.

But until a crisis emerges, we won’t do anything. And even then, the University will have a knee-jerk, irrational response that does little or nothing to address the real problem. As long as a problem is quiet, it is not a problem at all. So ignore those people snorting lines in the bathroom … we’ve got alcohol to demonize.

Adam Pulver is a senior majoring in community health and political science. He can be reached via email at [email protected]