September 18, 2013

Gannett: Drug Use ‘Pretty Low,’ Steady Among Cornellians

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From Breaking Bad to Miley Cyrus, some of the biggest obsessions in pop culture today reflect the idea of a drug-laden America, which could explain why so many students overestimate the number of illegal substance abusers at Cornell.

Gannett surveys show that not only is Cornell slightly at about or below national college-age drug abuse rates, but that Cornell’s numbers have not increased at all in recent years.

A spring 2010 survey of a random sample of Cornell undergraduate students conducted by Gannett found that 32 percent of students had tried marijuana in their lifetime, and about 15 percent had used marijuana in the past 30 days.

“While drug use is a concern and certainly some of those substances can cause serious irreparable harm, drug use among students tends to be pretty low, if at all, at Cornell,” Deborah Lewis, a health educator for Gannett, said.

A similar survey conducted nationally in 2010 by the American College Health Association found that 37 percent of college students had tried marijuana, with 17 percent of those students having used it in the past 30 days.

Those results were consistent with the results of surveys in 2005, which found that 17 percent of students reported using marijuana in the past 30 days, both at Cornell and nationally.

Although the number of students using drugs is not on the rise, according to Judicial Administrator Mary Beth Grant JD ’88, referrals to the judicial administrator regarding drug use are dramatically increasing — a trend she attributes to increased police enforcement.

“It’s not that we think people are using more, we think that people are getting caught more,” Grant said.

Judicial administrator referrals for drug-related violations increased from eight percent of total referrals in 2001 to 17 percent in 2009, but alcohol violations stayed constant, comprising about 60 percent of all judicial administrator referrals.

Grant said that it is extremely rare that any judicial administrator referral for illegal substance abuse is for anything other than marijuana.

According to Lewis, about four percent of students report using illegal drugs other than marijuana, with .9 percent of students having used cocaine in the past 30 days, and .3 percent of students reporting the use of MDMA.

Nationally, 1.1 percent of college students reported using cocaine in the past 30 days and 1.2 percent reported using MDMA.

“Cornell students tend to be pretty cautious around substance use,” Lewis said. “By and large students are really interested in peak performance academically and athletically, and they understand that using these substances on a pretty regular basis will have a negative effect on that which is most important to them.”

Danielle ’16 said that she has used marijuana, cocaine, molly and acid at Cornell. Although she uses drugs frequently, she said that she has not known them to interfere with her or her peers’ academics. She said that everything she uses, except for acid, is “pretty easy” to obtain on campus.

“Coke is very easy to get. I do coke whenever it’s offered to me, but I save doing acid or molly for special occasions or when I’m in a good, happy place,” Danielle said.

Lewis said that there could be some under-reporting of drug use in the survey due to self-reporting bias. However if there was a self reporting bias, she said, it would be relatively consistent from year to year, still showing that drug use has not increased.

The Gannett survey also found that Cornell students dramatically overestimate how much their peers are using illegal substances, with over thirty percent of students predicting that the average student uses some form of illegal drug at least once a week.

Echoing the results of the survey, Grant said that there is a false belief among students that their peers are using more drugs than they actually are.

“I think the misconception happens with everything— with alcohol, sex, better grades … I think in general as human beings we are not very good with understanding what happens in other peoples’ lives,” Grant said.

Eric ’16 — who said he has used various illegal substances at Cornell — said he believes that the results of Gannett’s survey underestimate the campus’ number of users.

“Drugs are definitely less talked about which could make them more unsafe because they are always so shunned away,” Eric said.

Lewis said that the reason Gannett focuses less about substance abuse prevention and more about alcohol safety is because alcohol causes many more campus emergencies than drug use.

“I think there is both an ease of access to alcohol and a sense of ‘nothing really bad can happen’ so that people become more careless and desensitized to alcohol,” Lewis said.