Talking about Pills

Features - Jedited
Stay With Me Triton helping an ill Sun God. Art credit to Jenna McCloskey.

The UCSD Guardian investigates the changing views on campus substance abuse. 

In the very first issue of the UCSD Guardian — back in 1967 when it was called the Triton Times — the dean and provost took a section to condemn the use of LSD and marijuana, saying, “The law is unambiguous and offers a straightforward answer to those who ask the difference between using alcohol and marijuana or LSD: incarceration.” The administration’s attitude toward drug use has remained negative since then; however, their message is changing into one that promotes safety with alcohol and drug use, rather than complete abstinence.

One of UCSD’s more prolific drug-related tragedies happened last year at the Sun God Festival when Revelle College junior Ricardo Ambriz died after the concert from an overdose. He had taken a large dose of 5-ADP, a derivative of MDA. UCSD mourned his death by lowering the flag in Revelle Plaza to half-mast. It has almost definitely been a factor in the campus’ increased focus on drug safety and education.

According to Juan Gonzalez, the Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs, the campus administration and related bodies plan on approaching the drug and alcohol use at Sun God Festival through more education about safety.

“Health and safety problems associated with the Sun God Festival have increased significantly in the last several years,” Gonzalez told the UCSD News Center. “This year, we made a number of changes to the event to reduce risky behavior and have increased education and programs around the festival that focus on drug and alcohol safety.”

One of the measures that campus communities have taken is displaying ampersands around campus to promote the Stay with Me Campaign. Stay with Me, which was created by the office of the VCSA, Student Health & Well-Being and A.S. Concerts and Events, among others, promotes safe drug and alcohol use as opposed to abstinence.

Eleanor Roosevelt College senior Ryan Perez, an elected senator to the 2015–16 A.S. Council, gave his opinion on drug education at UCSD.

“There was a shift from abstinence to harm reduction. It’s happening globally, and as far as we can tell, research shows that it works,” Perez told the UCSD Guardian. “People are going to participate in whatever they want to participate in. They’re going to do whatever they want with their bodies. The best we can do is educate them as much as we can so that they can make smart decisions about what to do with their bodies.”

Stay with Me is going to be screening a 2014 documentary about festival drug use on Apr 24 at Price Center Theater. The documentary — called “What’s in My Baggie?”  — focuses on the need to chemically test drugs to confirm what they are before ingesting them. A drug testing organization called the Bunk Police are featured in the film, as they show festival-goers that the drugs they were intending to take were often not what they paid for. Commonly, people who intended to purchase MDMA were sold bath salts or other more dangerous drugs instead. The film’s messages about the need for drug testing were also mentioned in the video that students needed to watch in order to register for Sun God Festival 2015, a point which has not been made in the past around the time of Sun God.

ASCE AVP Seraphin Raya listed some more specifics about drug and alcohol safety.

“Advice I have for students would include ensuring that they always have their friends’ phone numbers,” Raya told the Guardian. “Not going past their limits is key. If drugs are involved, students need to [make] sure they are tested. There are test kits available online, and they certainly help, but in no way do they guarantee safety. When students work out their plans for Sun God [Festival], they need to eliminate the unknown variables and make sure [they] plan ahead.”

Whether or not it was brought about as a result of Ambriz’s death, the discussion about drugs this year at UCSD has both become louder in relation to that of alcohol, and its tone has shifted toward safety and education rather than abstinence. The campaign’s effectiveness has yet to be seen, but many students and administration are hopeful.