An In-Depth Look at Drug Use at Swarthmore

No one’s ever contested the fact that there are drugs at Swarthmore. Or that there are several different kinds of drugs. It seems, however, that the drug culture may not be as big or as prevalent as many think, especially given the long-standing reputation the college has for being full of liberal, “hippie” students.

Swarthmore of course sees a lot of alcohol — much like in most schools — and a decent amount of marijuana use. And while the presence of drugs like acid, mushrooms, ecstasy, lsd, and mdma (among others) seems less visible, there is a general consensus among many staff and students that for all intents and purposes, there are no drugs like meth, cocaine or heroin.

“There have been a variety of drugs on this campus, but I don’t think they’re as prevalent as they are in the outside world, at least in the social groups that I’ve been in,” said a student (Student 1), who preferred to remain anonymous. “I think Swarthmore uses drugs far less than the average college or university.”

Alcohol Intervention and Education Specialist, Tom Elverson, says his sense is that the presence of harder drugs on campus is minimal, compared to other schools similar to Swarthmore.

Still, while the drug culture is certainly smaller, even by sheer numbers, another student, Student 2, says that apart from weed, LSD and mushrooms, there are a fair amount of experimental drugs like 2C-I, 2C-B, 4-ACO-DMT, and many others. These chemically engineered drugs are devised to produce the same effects as other more organic drugs. 4-ACO-DMT, for instance, also known as O-Acetylpsilocin, is a chemical drug alternative to psilocybin, which is a natural occurring psychedelic in mushrooms.

“The school is pretty hippie, it’s full of people that like to experiment,” Student 2 said.

Student 3, who has sold mushrooms (a natural psychedelic) on campus, has seen this too. He was surprised at the rate at which he sold them. In under two weeks, he sold over an ounce, or almost 30 grams of “shrooms,” even considering that the suggested or most common dose is approximately 0.75-1.5 grams.

“I guess that rate would be normal in a city, but here I was surprised by how many kids just got word,” he said. “It was a lot of friends of friends, but I would also get random texts asking me for them. People were willing to pay a lot for an otherwise really rare product,” he said.

Student 3 doesn’t think that this would work for just any drug, however. He thinks that it’s not just the school that is “hippie,” but that the drugs are as well.

“[Swarthmore] isn’t a party-hard, let’s-snort-cocaine kind of school. The drugs that are here are the kind you would expect. We have more psychedelic, mind-bending drugs. I wanna say they’re hippie drugs,” he said, noting that they go hand-in-hand with the kind of intellectual, self-exploration that’s present in almost every other sphere of Swatties’ lives. “All drugs are to some extent part of some kind of intellectual exploration, but these almost emphasize that, whereas drugs like cocaine are more about wanting to have fun, feeling exhilaration.”

Quite obviously, alcohol is one kind of drug people take to have fun on campus. Because it is so readily available, some think it lowers the need of finding other illicit substances with which to have fun, or feel good.

“Booze will always be the most popular one. It is quite the most universal drug of choice,” said Student 1.

According to Elverson, who counsels many students with drug problems, alcohol is by far the most common drug he deals with.

“Most of the people I see have chronic alcohol issues. They resort to alcohol because they’re depressed, they’re anxious, they had a fight with someone … We also do have some students that are alcohol dependent, and that’s their primary issue,” he said.

Elverson says that even though most of the students he talks to are referred from the Dean’s office, Worth, CAPS or RAs, a few students self-refer themselves to him with issues, and many try to seek help for their friends.

“I’ve had to recommend that students be placed in treatment centers, some as close as Philadelphia, others as far as Boston,” he said, noting that this is not the majority of cases. “Most students can get support from me or an AA group off campus.”

Still, due in part to its tolerant and open alcohol policy, the college is on the lower end of the spectrum around issues of hospitalizations, citations, court appearances and interventions, according to Elverson. This he gathered in 2007, after conducting a comparative study of colleges like Swarthmore in relation to their alcohol-related incidents (Guilford, Sarah Lawrence, Middlebury, Dickinson, and Franklin & Marshall included).

“I don’t want to make light of it and say it’s no big deal though,” he said. “One case is one too many.”

The biggest drug around which there seems to be under debate is Adderall, or other like prescription “study” drugs. Adderall, which is used for the treatment of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, or ADHD, is often used by students without the disorder to be better able to concentrate and study more efficiently.

Student 1, while acknowledging that Adderall does exist on campus, thinks it is not as common of a study aide here as it is in other places.

“I personally don’t know of anyone who’s overusing drugs like Adderall to study,” he said. “I’ve used it before, but I don’t have a prescription so it’s not like I have easy access to it.”

While it is, in some ways, surprising that Adderall is not a more prevalent drug on Swarthmore’s campus (given the amount of work Swatties have and the stress they’re often under), Student 1 thinks the culture is so study oriented that it’s unnecessary.

“Sometimes you have nothing to do but study because no one is socializing, no one is partying. No one is doing anything because it’s study time across all of campus,” he said.

Student 3 agrees. “I have this gut reaction against it. It’s like cheating,” he said. “It’s a power tool that you just use to solve a problem, and an assignment, especially at a place like this, should be a genuine, creative, personal production.”

It is not a drug that Elverson, or Director of Psychological Services David Ramirez, sees much of either. Most of the students that come by CAPS with concerns about Adderall are curious as to “whether it could be helpful with attention and concentration issues” rather than worried about possible misuse and abuse.

Student 2, on the other hand, knows a good amount of people who use Adderall who are “providing it for themselves, bringing it in from home or from Philly.” And while there aren’t many deals on campus, “people are using it to study really hard.”

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