Faculty Insight Into Campus Drug Use “Like Any Other High School”

Identifying Drug Use Catching students red-handed, sanctuary calls and tips from students are among the ways that cluster deans learn of drug use on campus. Chad Green, West Quad North Cluster Dean, said, “More often than not [a student or group of students] is obviously intoxicated or something happens that leads to [questioning].” “My personal assumption is that I trust the kids in my charge. I think that as a school we give students a tremendous amount of responsibility and independence,” Green added. “One of the downsides” of student freedom is that it allows for the possibility of drug use, Green said. “Teenagers are pretty ingenious animals,” he said. When a student or faculty member brings a concern about a student to Clyfe Beckwith, Flagstaff Cluster Dean, “the radar screen is wider,” Beckwith said. When an adult is concerned about a certain student, the adult goes on the lookout for any abnormal behavior, which can lead to questioning and often a confession, according to Beckwith. But the school’s policy makes it difficult to identify drug and alcohol use without catching a student in the act. Dr. Richard Keller, school physician, said, “Students and faculty members can bring students to my attention and I can question them and they can deny it.” Dr. Keller said he hopes that his questioning, even when it does not lead to a confession, causes students to reflect upon their behavior and ultimately decide to change their ways. “I have actually had a number of kids who have said getting caught was the best thing that ever happened to them,” said Dr. Keller. Discipline can serve as a “wake-up call” for these students, and allow them to deal with possible substance abuse problems, Keller said. Discipline Discipline cases at Phillips Academy take into account all of the specifics of an incident. Beckwith emphasized that his concern about a given incident is directly related to the potency and amount of alcohol or drugs. “The more potent the drug or the alcohol is, the more addicted the person is mentally and/or physically,” Beckwith said. “That’s why in our Blue Book we have the clause ‘egregious’…if we come across someone who smokes marijuana, it’s not going to be the same as if the student had cocaine. It’s the same with a can of beer versus a handle of vodka.” Marlys Edwards, Dean of Students and Residential Life, confirmed that cases of “second tier” drug use, or any substance considered more dangerous than marijuana, leads to dismissal. “Above all else, we want people to be healthy and safe here, so every time [students use drugs or alcohol], it is worthy of our serious consideration,” said Green. Dr. Keller said users of hard drugs “usually don’t last” at Phillips Academy, because the “problem is so severe.” He mentioned that, from a health perspective, the minimum response for hard drug use would be a professional, off-campus evaluation and the maximum would be a leave of absence for health reasons. According to Edwards, students’ worries about getting caught can be so taxing that drug use on campus is both physically and emotionally or mentally harmful. “It just takes a whole lot of time and energy,” she said. Types of Drugs “The main two things here are alcohol and marijuana. I’m much more worried about the hard drugs,” Dr. Keller said. Dr. Keller has encountered cocaine, crack, mushrooms, LSD and Ecstasy users, but said these drugs are “not common.” In a Phillipian survey, 3 percent of respondents, or 18 students, said they have used a substance other than marijuana or alcohol recreationally while school was in session. Reported drugs of abuse included tobacco, painkillers, cough syrup, antidepressants, Adderall and cocaine. Dr. Keller said, “I suspect [hard drug use occurs] more than we think.” Users of these more dangerous substances “are kids who we try to get into drug treatment programs,” Keller said. Green has seen cases of alcohol, marijuana, and prescription medication use in his time as Cluster Dean. “I’ve had at least one case where there was a strong suspicion [of cocaine], but no evidence, per se,” he said. Edwards said that occasionally suspicions of cocaine turned out to be other substances. According to Edwards, there were two recorded instances of cocaine use last year and other cases of Ritalin, Adderall, marijuana and alcohol use. “The life-threatening [drugs] are much rarer,” said Beckwith. Prevalence Though Dr. Keller said he only learns of drug or alcohol use when a user is caught or Sanctuary is called, he said that he knows “just from working here that [substance abuse] is an issue here just like on any other high school campus, whether private or public.” According to Cluster Deans Beckwith and Green, perceptions of drug and alcohol use might be skewed based on how many people find out about instances of substance abuse in a given year. “I think some years drug and alcohol use gets kind of a higher profile on campus. Usually that translates as one or more high visibility cases where kids get caught and a lot of people are talking about it,” Green said. When students are aware of drug or alcohol use, it often leads the community to believe in a higher incidence of drug use, according to Green. “My guess is that it’s probably been pretty steady,” he said. Beckwith said, “I think people talk about [substance abuse] more than it happens.” Beckwith added that he believes that drug and alcohol use comes “in waves,” based on how confident students are in their ability to get away with rule breaking. “There’s a period where people are sort of intimidated by the discipline [and there are times when students are] sort of lulled into a sense of safety when there really isn’t one,” he said. “I’m also inclined to believe that if anyone does it on a regular basis, they’re going to be found out,” he said. Green said, “I guess my assumption is that if you want to [use drugs or alcohol], it’s probably not that difficult.” “I’d be naïve to think these [instances of substance abuse] don’t happen,” Beckwith said. “There is plenty to do [and there are] plenty of ways to have fun…that are more constructive than using drugs and alcohol,” Green said. He added, “My philosophy [is that] we want to equip kids with the knowledge so that they can make good choices [after high school].” Green said he believes that in recent years, there has been a stronger support network for students and a greater effort to keep track of students. This gradual change, Green believes, has caused a drop in substance abuse during his time here. Edwards said substance abuse has become less prevalent during her time here. “There is so much pressure on kids [to get into college], that there’s less [substance abuse lately] on campus because the cost is so high.” Types of Users There are three types of drug and alcohol users at Phillips Academy, according to Dr. Keller. Sporadic users may try a substance once or twice. Experimental users do drugs intermittently and in a social setting. Habitual users abuse drugs regularly. These chronic users are “definitely [in] the minority,” said Dr. Keller. “It’s a slippery slope between the three categories,” said Dr. Keller. He said he believes that the shift from social to chronic use is usually accidental and subconscious. Genetic components, addictive personalities or “something as simple as hanging out with the wrong people” may cause a student to become a habitual drug or alcohol user, according to Dr. Keller. “People use substances to treat underlying emotional problems—depression, anxiety, different stress disorders ….so [they are] self-medicating themselves, but in a self-destructive way,” he said. “The experimental users can get into more problems due to overdose … so those are the people who often go to the hospital because [of] being passed out or being so drunk,” he said. According to Dr. Keller, chronic users get away with more than experimental users, who are less experienced with concealing their substance abuse. “But I hear stories about [chronic users] in college … any restraint they had in high school is gone … and they become full-fledged … either they drop out [of college] or they limp through it in an anesthetized haze.” Green said, “I would characterize the situations that I’ve dealt with directly as being more the recreational or experimental kind of use.” According to the Phillipian survey, 14 students said they were addicted to caffeine, while two claimed to be addicted to tobacco. One student reported addiction to methadone and codeine.