Recently, there have been a flurry of articles in the national press citing The Saint’s drug survey results as proof that our university has a ‘drug problem.’ I firmly disagree.
St Andrews, when it comes to drugs, is very conservative. The survey results showed that one third of St Andrews students have consumed drugs at least once – this means that a large majority have never experimented with drugs. In the United States, according to Time, 42 per cent of the American population has tried marijuana at least once; in California, where I am from, recreational marijuana consumption is practically legal.
National media should not be so scandalized by drug use in universities; after all, there is a long list of eminent individuals – including the president of the United States himself – who have experimented with or regularly used drugs. Beloved Prince Harry has tried cannabis, as has Maya Angelou – renowned poet, while noted psychologist Sigmund Freud heavily indulged in cocaine.
These great and influential people all tried a variety of drugs. Some regularly used them, and a few even abused them. The Saint’s survey proves neither regular use nor abuse of drugs: it inquired as to how many students have tried drugs, and no further. This is not the first time that media source such as the Express has sensationalized a statistic –last year, it revealed that the University of Edinburgh was ‘Scotland’s most popular institution for drug users, with eight out of 10 undergraduates admitting to trying illegal substances.’ Every year, it seems, there is a new substance-abuse scapegoat.
Even the secretary of the St Andrews Community Council, Patrick Marks, agrees that ‘this is an affluent student town so no doubt there is a certain amount of drug taking going on, as in most student places’. In St Andrews, like in other university towns around the world, people take drugs: that is just how it is, and how it has been for centuries. Students experiment, they try, then they leave university, and the experiment is over.
The University itself acknowledges that drug taking happens in St Andrews. University health policy states that administrators “will provide help and support to those adversely affected by the illicit drug or substance misuse, of others and will also provide help and support to those who wish to address personal problems or issues arising from their own use of illicit drugs or other substances.” Drug consumption is not alien to University life – yet from the reaction of the Students’ Association to The Saint’s survey, it would seem as though drugs and university students had never encountered one another.
Still, as statistics show, drug use, though present, is not pervasive in St Andrews – the parties I’ve been to have few if any drugs. That is to say, I haven’t seen many joints, pills, or powders. I have, in fact, become very aware of one drug whose legality is never contested, and whose consequences are not properly addressed: alcohol. What I fear is not the slim possibility of cannabis abuse, but rather the assured eventuality of alcohol bingeing by St Andrews students.
Where are the statistics about the number of University of St Andrews students submitted to Ninewells Hospital for alcohol related incidents every year? Where are the numbers on student altercations and incidents with the police where alcohol is involved? That – more than whether or not 33.3 per cent is an egregious amount – is what I really want to know.