Pubdate: Tue, 06 Jan 2004
Source: McGill Tribune (CN QU Edu)
Contact:  2004 The McGill Tribune
Author: Christopher Moore
Bookmark: (Youth)


Students Who Straddle The Razor Of Academic Success And Chemical Comfort

At the end of the semester, many of us were scrambling to excavate 
ourselves from the holes we'd dug into. Whether high-strung, or just high 
and strung out, it was time to hunker down. But breaking routine can mean 
breaking concentration, and finals is not the time to lose focus. During 
finals, I overheard a biology student in a cafe brag that over the last 
three days, with a few pills, she'd neither slept nor put down her books. 
Like many of us, she wasn't going to stagger through exams without some help.

Dr. Pierre Tellier, director of health services at McGill, acknowledges 
that student drug use is rampant.

"There are a few who do get into trouble [using ecstasy]. There are a few 
[using] meth-amphetamines... and cocaine," says Dr. Pierre Tellier. 
"Cannabis is the number one drug, other than alcohol. Students commonly use 
it to relax."

It's difficult to study when tense. Resolving to stay in and bear the brunt 
of the books can, for many, mean getting jittery. So, call a pager, punch 
in an account number and, like magic, a fellow student arrives at the door. 
This person could be just another student on another bicycle, but their 
knapsack does not carry any books. These aren't drug dealers. No, they're 
simply potheads who've found an economically viable part-time job. In this 
circumstance, there are two choices for sale: economic outdoor or the 
bubonic-hydroponic-chronic. Prices are above street value, but this is 
front-door service with a smile, and quality control is impeccable.

There are those, however, whose hobbies go much deeper than that. Follow 
Syd, the joint-honours student, into a pharmacy to the prescription 
counter, where he slaps a loonie down (all within a healthy student 
budget), and asks for a prevention kit. The pharmacist grows nervous, her 
face is flush, and she won't reach for the dollar until the rest of us at 
the counter leave. This over-the-counter prevention kit includes five 
alcohol swabs, five 1cc syringes, two condoms, and one education pamphlet 
explaining where needles can be procured, exchanged, and safely disposed of.

"You go from being a potentially excellent student to an academically 
mediocre one," Syd explains. "I think, just like most addicts, I'm 
inherently better than most... That's like the ultimate justifying 
rationality behind most addictions: that you can handle it, whereas most 
people can't." With a paper due the next day, he's 'handling' it.

"At the same time, there is planning involved, like the fact that I made 
sure that my paper wasn't going to be due for another three, four, five 
days... The fact is I would still rather get a B+ in this class, than a C+ 
or a B-," Syd continues, emptying 1/16 g of cocaine into a spoonful of water.

"Now, if I was a junkie addict with no source of parameter of behaviour 
based in academic work, and I wasn't at McGill and hadn't worked to get to 
McGill, then these things wouldn't matter because I wouldn't be able to 
relate to them; I'd have no point of reference. But I have a point of 
reference, that, thankfully, is academia... and higher education at a 
really respectable school."

Perhaps he is better than most after all, perhaps he understands his own 
unique weaknesses and knows how to cope with them, or perhaps he's 
regurgitating the same elitist hyperbole of any Ivy-League wannabe.

"I can temper [my habit]... but I can't maximize McGill at the cost of 
giving this up. Neither can I maximize this, which would include me losing 
my life," Syd continues, warming the mixture with a Bic lighter. "There's 
two kinds of addicts. There's maintenance addicts, and then there's the 
doomed. Maintenance addiction is something that is... in the long term, 
really more devastating... They can accommodate the rest of the world and 
social criteria and standards, go to McGill, and still do okay-[though not] 
as well as they could. I don't do as well as I could because I'm not 
willing to give up the sensuous element of indulgence." Neither hunger goes 
entirely neglected; the syringe delivers its payload. A belligerent aura 
grows about him.

"Defining McGill is not me, but [for] most McGill students, [the school] is 
the necessary interaction between the prepped and naturally inclined future 
elites, [as well as] an encounter with a sort of danger-taking risk in 
hand, not losing themselves to it, and affirming the fact that their social 
education to this point has functioned," Syd begins to rationalize. Most 
other campus junkies, he explains, are "Ontarian rich kids... They have the 
privilege... They have the most freedom, because their parents are the most 
distracted, and they compensate by purchasing for their kids the love that 
they can't provide."

Drugs are on all university campuses, and many make little effort at hiding 
it, lining up at washrooms in frat house parties, and ducking behind 
carrels in the library. These types, too, have to 'handle' it.

There are still some seasoned survivors at McGill.

"Especially at McGill, drugs are about community... McGill is such a 
cliquey school," says Erin Vollick, English T.A., PhD student, and author 
of the counter-culture novel, The Originals. "The people who fall off are 
the people that have... gone into the darker side of Montreal that lives 
here, as opposed to those just passing through in their designer jeans. 
That's when they're in trouble."

A will-powered elitist psyche persists despite its own hypocrisy in the 
drug-using community. "If you haven't rebelled fundamentally by [the age 
of] 18 or 19 when you get to McGill, you're already into this social 
stratification system where you're not going to rebel outside the bounds of 
accepted rebellion," claims Syd. His elitist tendencies are getting the 
better of him, and suddenly he's not much different from those Ontarian 
rich kids he denigrates. This is the same 'ultimate justifying rationale' 
that he warned about while still sober.

"You'll smoke some weed, might do some mushrooms, might drop a bit of E, 
but you'll not meet [me] in a bar, come home to shoot up with [me], and end 
up having a four person orgy... and then go back and be a sociology student 
at McGill-not unless you have some other prior reference, or... you're 
really, really atypical."

The effects of excessive drug use, according to Vollick are extremely 
noticeable among undergrads, who are much more inclined to use than grad 
students who would not be able to get away with it as easily.

"I've basically dealt with all of them... It's so easy to tell, it's just 
apparent in their work... [which] suffers terribly.

"If [the smart ones] are not given the opportunity and if they don't feel 
like expanding on their own work and setting themselves to their own tasks, 
then of course [they will] create obstacles. If they're not getting what 
they need to challenge them in the classroom, they're going to look for it 
outside the classroom in one form or another," Vollick says. And they keep 
looking too-in the library, in the bars, and anywhere else on campus.
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