Arrests Spark Drug Discussion

The arrests of three PA students three weeks ago on charges relating to drugs and alcohol have sparked discussion about the prevalence of substances on campus. Paul Murphy, Dean of Students and Residential Life, said that he was unsure of the extent of drug and alcohol use on campus, but that substances undoubtedly have a presence. “I assume that it’s a high school and there are a lot of things that are not legal to have on campus,” said Murphy. “We know that if you really, really want to do something that’s not right, whether it’s drugs or alcohol, it’s not impossible. “I think what happened last week, in my mind, confirmed what we assumed was happening,” added Murphy. According to a male Upper who spoke to The Phillipian under a condition of anonymity, drugs are easily attainable on campus. He said that drugs were much harder to obtain at home under parental supervision, but “extremely easy” to acquire at school. He said that he has bought marijuana and alcohol in the town of Andover from dealers not associated with Phillips Academy. He also admitted to having bought cocaine, which he believes “definitely is a problem” on campus. However, the Upper said that he did not think alcohol was a problem, because it was a normal part of high school. “[Alcohol] can make a normally boring weekend at PA a little more exciting,” he said. “I don’t do drugs,” said Avery Stone ’10. “But I definitely think that they are accessible on campus. Drug use at Andover is not in your face, but it is certainly an undercurrent.” Dr. Max Alovisetti, Director of Graham House Counseling Center, said that he believes the percentage of students who engage regularly in substance abuse is in the single digits. Alovisetti said that students are driven to engage in substance use for many different reasons. “Part of it is the cool factor. It’s also the experimentation and the wanting to experience something that they think they can’t experience unless they’re putting substances into their bodies,” said Alovisetti. He added, “There’s not much education to reduce that [percentage of chronic users]. Education is to sway those that are considering taking drugs, particularly students considering using some of the really dangerous drugs.” Another male Upper said that drugs are “definitely really easy” to acquire on campus. He said that he has bought marijuana and painkillers in downtown Andover and used them on campus in places such as the Cochran Bird Sanctuary. He added that he does not engage in substance use at school as much as he does at home, because of the greater risk of being caught at school. Stephanie Xu ’09, who was close friends during her freshman year with two of the students recently arrested, said that she believes the culture at Andover allows students to have a nonchalant attitude toward drug and alcohol use, and particularly toward marijuana. “The fact that most students have the attitude that marijuana is such an insignificant thing makes room for something new and worse to emerge,” said Xu. “It has become accepted that every year somebody is going to get caught or kicked out [for drug and alcohol use]. It’s almost become a guessing game. ‘Who is it going to be this year?’ This kind of thinking isn’t meant to be malicious, but it reflects students’ nonchalant attitudes,” said Xu. Dr. Richard Keller, School Physician, categorized students into four groups of substance users: non-users, students who have engaged in drugs and alcohol only a few times, sporadic users for social reasons and chronic users. Keller added that he believes the vast majority of PA students do not utilize drugs or alcohol, or have only done so in a very experimental way. Keller said the more “hardcore” drugs are used much less frequently. He said that he believes most of the hard drugs used on campus are hallucinogens that have some “novelty.” In light of the recent charges of cocaine possession against the three students, Alovisetti said, “I don’t think [cocaine use] is a trend up. I think this is a blip.” Alovisetti added that he believes cocaine is one of the least frequently used substances on campus. “I think a number of years ago, cocaine in the general public was much more popular. We used to think it was the cool drug. It was viewed as safe, but then based on a number of deaths of athletes in the community, people became aware of how dangerous cocaine is,” he said. Alovisetti also said that when he first started working at Andover 23 years ago, he had not heard about cocaine abuse or study drug abuse. The abuse of Ritalin and Adderall has increased since then because more students are taking medication for Attention Deficit Disorder, according to Alovisetti. Keller said that 10 or 15 years ago, alcohol was the primary substance of choice for students, but now it may have shifted to marijuana. “I think it’s more about what kids think they can get away with. Certainly with more attention to alcohol on campus and it being more difficult to hide the use of alcohol, I think marijuana is more popular,” said Keller. Phillips Academy’s Community Health Team is currently analyzing the Youth Risk Behavior Survey, administered last spring to the entire student body. The Community Health Team is comprised of Alovisetti, Keller, Murphy, Becky Sykes, Associate Head of School, Linda Griffith, Dean of CAMD, Reverend Anne Gardner, Head of the Chaplaincy and Patricia Davison, Head of Academic Support Services. Alovisetti, chair of the Community Health Team, said that he could not release any of the statistics from the survey until the committee had further examined it. According to Keller, an external research group centered at Dartmouth University is also evaluating the survey. The purposes of the survey, according to Keller, are to compare Phillips Academy to national norms and to determine whether the school is focused on the right direction for its educational efforts. Keller said that based on questionnaires and surveys, he thinks the usage overall of alcohol and drugs at Andover is most likely less than at schools nationwide. Two weeks ago, Barbara Chase, Head of School, addressed the student body at All-School Meeting about the arrests of the Phillips Academy students. During her speech, Chase recalled a personal story of a close friend who suffered from addiction. Chase asked students to seek help if necessary. Cristina Mommsen ’09 said that she had a deep connection with Chase’s speech at ASM. Mommsen said that she had a friend from home who was addicted to cocaine. Soon after Mommsen tried to help her friend enroll in rehab, the friend passed away. “I hadn’t been expecting [Chase’s] heartfelt speech, and all of a sudden I was bawling in the third row at All-School. I was reliving the situation [with my friend back home] in my head. Ms. Chase’s compelling speech really hit a soft spot,” said Mommsen.