Substance abuse is not a new campus safety issue. However, the shape that challenge takes is always changing. This week we’re highlighting three stories about new trends in substance abuse that may very well suggest the challenges college administrators will face in the future.
Just as electronic cigarettes pose a new regulatory challenge, their cannabis cousins, vaporizers, pose an equal challenge to schools determined to curb drug use on campus. A vaporizer can be used to consume marijuana—it heats marijuana flowers or concentrates to around 350 degrees, not hot enough to burn but hot enough to vaporize the psychoactive chemical THC and produce a high every bit as potent as smoking from a joint or a pipe. These devices pose a unique problem for campus administrators. Vaporizers can be as small as a pen, and produce none of the tell-tale skunk-like odor associated with smoking marijuana. As a result, they are easy to use discreetly and hide. In fact, they are virtually indistinguishable from e-cigarettes. With the market for vaporizers growing at a pace usually associated with tech startups, colleges and universities trying to prevent students from getting high on campus will be hard-pressed to find a way to remove vaporizers from their grounds.
Similar problems are presented by the possibility of widely-available powdered alcohol, a concept that took one step closer to reality when the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) issued the federal approvals necessary for a product called Palcohol to be made and sold in the United States. While the TTB has since said that those approvals were issued “in error,” it’s not clear what that means for the future of Palcohol, and it’s possible that just-add-water margaritas and mojitos could still be coming soon to a liquor store near you, or your campus. Like vaporizers, powdered alcohol could pose a major challenge to schools determined to keep their campuses substance free—it’s not hard to imagine students sneaking small packets of powdered booze to school events in their pockets or bags and then adding them to the punch or water bottles. Powdered alcohol might pose other problems as well. It’s not yet clear what would happen if an intoxicated undergrad tried to snort a packet of Palcohol, or eat it straight, or add half the recommended amount of water, but preventing such scenarios might become a top priority for schools as soon as Palcohol can work out their differences with the TTB.
While marijuana and alcohol are both well-known problems on college campuses (and the traditional focus of prevention programs), few schools consider hard drugs like heroin to be a major problem. Now, however, that’s starting to change, especially for schools located in areas where the use of heroin or other hard drugs is increasing in the larger population. Incidents such as the overdose death of a University of Rochester freshman are prompting administrators to begin expanding their prevention efforts to include hard drugs, a change one campus health center director has described as a “paradigm shift.”. New efforts include screening student patients for hard drug use and making resources available for addicts trying to beat an addiction.