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Zero Tolerance and Substance Free Policies

Dear BSC community,

When looking at these proposals from a public health perspective, the inclusion of substance free policies in the "substance free academic theme house" proposal and the inclusion of zero tolerance for illegal drugs in Cloyne Proposal 1 are both incredibly compromising to creating a community of healthy residents. Though it has been stated that "attempts to voluntarily seek help and support for substance issues will not trigger the usual substance use penalties", the provision that "violations of the Cloyne contract addendum will result in immediate removal from Cloyne" is highly punitive, starkly reactionary, and neglectful of harm reduction principles.

In an ideal world, an abstinence based, substance free policy could be effectively implemented and carried out. For better or worse however, the world is comprised of individual wants, needs, and desires that result in an ever changing, unstable, and exploratory human landscape. Consequently, rather than prohibiting drug use with punitive, disciplinary reinforcements--which inspires fear and isolation--it is more productive for all parties involved to adopt measures to minimize harm and reach out with acceptance and compassion. Like we have seen in abstinence based sex education, there is strong research indicating that zero tolerance and substance free housing is, at best, ineffective and, at worst, deleterious (Marlatt).

In regards to a substance free residency, we must all take into consideration that over one hundred 18-25 year old students will be living under one roof. Will every one of those residents adhere to a substance free residency and, for example, never drink while living in this co-op? No, they will continue to drink but simply away from the larger community, in their rooms and in private spaces. this isolation may put people at greater risk for overdose, increase the oppressive stigma surrounding drug use, and cause other drug related harm. A national study from Rutgers University concluded that "substance-free residences were far from substance-free; however, residents drank less heavily" (Weschler). Though this may indicate that substance free housing reduces binge drinking, this does not reduce drinking related harms. In fact, binge drinking is not the cause of the majority of drinking related harms. A study at Harvard School of Public health explored the prevention paradox, an epidemiological contradiction, in regards to substance use and found that "the abundance of drinking related harms in college results from a combination of low to moderate individual risk multiplied by the large number of non-extreme drinkers" (Weitzman). A

Finally, using a rather extreme example, harm reduction has been incredibly effective in promoting health, wellness, and eventually sobriety in injection drug users. By offering empowering methods to look out for their own health and their own actions, harm reduction allows IV drug users to choose to put their feet on the path to sobriety instead of forcibly dragging them. However, when punitive law enforcement crackdown on using, "participants using drugs constructed myriad strategies to minimize the amount of time spent at risk of police-related harms, [and] rendered them vulnerable to injection-related health problems." (Cooper). Basically, in order to avoid punishment, users put their own health at risk. This sacrifice of personal health will likely be seen in our own co-ops if a punitive drug policy were to be adopted.

"When the 'Just Say No' message no longer applies to people who have already said "Yes', harm reduction provides answers to the next questions" (Boyd). Given that we've already established that a substance free residence would not actually be substance free in practice, we must come to terms with how best to promote health and wellness in our co-ops. I strongly encourage the members to think deeply about what harmful and destructive after effects an illegal drug zero-tolerance policy or substance free policy could have on our community. Whatever the outcome, I hope that we can bring about a community that is healthier, more compassionate, and more understanding.

Best, Sophie Kang

Works Cited and Worth Reading

Boyd, Gayle M., Howard, Jan, Zucker, Robert A, Alcohol Problems Among Adolescents: Current Directions in Prevention Research" Hillsdale, New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates. 1991.

Cooper, Hannah, Moore, Lisa, Gruskin, Sofia. "The impact of a police drug crackdown on drug injectors’ ability to practice harm reduction: A qualitative study." Social Science and Medicine. Volume 61, Issue 3, August 2005.

Marlatt, Alan. "Harm Reduction: Come as You Are." Addictive Behaviors. Volume 21, Issue 6, November-December 1996.

Weitzman, Elissa. Nelson, Toben. "College student binge drinking and the 'prevention paradox'; implications for prevention and harm reduction." Journal of Drug Education, Harvard School of Public Health. Volume 34, Number 3 / 2004.,3,7;journal,34,168;linkingpublicationresults,1:300320,1

Wechsler, Henry, Lee, Jae Eun, Nelson, Toben F., Lee, Hang. "Drinking Levels, Alcohol Problems and Secondhand Effects in Substance-Free College Residences: Results of a National Study." Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs. Volume 62, January 2001.