UT’s annual Security and Fire Safety Report recorded a 32 percent increase in the number of drug arrests and a 29 percent increase in the number of disciplinary referrals from 2016 to 2017.
An increase in referrals could indicate that the UT Police Department is gravitating more toward helping those with a drug problem, addiction research professor Jane Maxwell said in an email.
“Referrals are definitely a public health approach to intervene with someone who is exhibiting harmful behavior to himself or his roommates or others, and the intervention can be a powerful tool to recognizing a problem and behavior change,”
The safety report, required each year under the Clery Act, includes all crimes reported to campus police, other law enforcement and university officials, such as the University’s Office for Inclusion and Equity.
“Our highest numbers regarding drug arrests are off-campus, and I would attribute that to (UTPD) being more proactive with our increase in patrols west of campus,” UTPD Assistant Chief Don Verett said. “Our university community had asked us to be more proactive off campus, off Guadalupe and West Campus. Just because the arrests go up may not mean there’s more drug use, but rather that we’re enforcing more and being more proactive.”
Drug overdose deaths reached a record high in 2017, and there has been a steady rise in overall illicit drug use among college students since 2010, with consistent increases in marijuana use, according to a national survey by the University of
Michigan. Alcohol, marijuana, non-medical prescription drugs and tobacco are the most commonly used drugs among students at UT, according to the University Health Services website.
Ian Sims, co-president of UT’s Students for Sensible Drug Policy chapter, said that UT should rethink its criminalization of those who use drugs and instead treat them with compassion.
“Arresting a student for drug use can cause them to lose their financial aid from the federal government, which is an absolute detriment to one’s life, and would only put one in a worse situation than before,” said Sims, an international relations and global studies junior. “Treating people who use drugs with compassion, while connecting them to healthcare resources and information that can allow them to reduce potential harms associated with substance misuse … is the most effective approach to substance misuse.”
UT offers resources for students recovering from drug addiction, such as the Center for Students in Recovery, the Alcohol and Other Drugs Counseling Program and Living Learning Communities dedicated to substance-free lifestyles. In addition, Students for Sensible Drug Policy has connected students to life-saving resources, such as Naloxone, which reverses an opioid overdose. SSDP has made Naloxone available in all freshmen living communities, and all resident assistants are trained to administer the medication to students.
Sociology professor William Kelly said UT can further tackle drug abuse by understanding that part of effective treatment includes individual willingness.
“Forcing treatment is likely to result in failure,” Kelly said. “We need … a public campaign making the point that (drug addiction) is a medical disorder, that it is about 50 percent genetic, that there is effective treatment, and that it is available to students.”