Overdoses highlight Wesleyan's wrestle with drug policies (+video)
A club-drug overdose which sent a total of 12 people to the hospital and left two Wesleyan students fighting for their lives, has forced school officials to reexamine how to approach drug enforcement and when to involve police.
Middletown, Conn. — As drug overdoses left two Wesleyan students fighting for their lives, witnesses helped investigators quickly identify the suspects: The drug-dealing was an open secret, according to court documents, even as the university has gotten tougher on drug violations.
The club-drug overdoses, which sent a total of 12 people to hospitals, are likely to bring more scrutiny to drug policies on college campuses, including Wesleyan's, which have wrestled with how to approach enforcement and when to involve local police.
"I think it will force schools to examine their policies," said state Rep. Matthew Lesser, a member of the Wesleyan class of 2005 whose district includes the Middletown campus. "It forces us to look at what we can do to make sure students are safe."
Four students have been arrested in connection with last weekend's overdoses, which left two students in critical condition. Authorities say the drug was presented as Molly, a popular name for the euphoria-inducing stimulant MDMA, but was likely cut with other designer drugs.
As on other campuses, the unlawful use and distribution of illicit drugs is prohibited at Wesleyan, but the issue is often complicated by a desire to treat substance abuse as a health issue first and what some describe as society's ambivalence about the use of certain drugs.
Tucker Andersen, a Wesleyan trustee, said the administration has been very thoughtful and tried to balance all the issues involved.
"This is an issue where there is no disagreement on the board. You want a policy which keeps students safe. You don't want them to experiment with all this sort of stuff," Andersen said. "You want to get the message out loud and clear that nobody in a position of authority is in favor of addictive and dangerous substances, but that doesn't mean you have to close your eyes to that it's going to occur anyway."
The school referred 154 students for disciplinary action on drug violations in 2011 but that number jumped to 281 in 2012, according to data reported to the U.S. Education Department. There were 240 students disciplined in 2013 on the campus of 3,200.
"At Wesleyan, we don't sweep these problems under the rug," Dean Michael Whaley said.
University President Michael Roth told the campus newspaper, The Wesleyan Argus, he does not anticipate major changes to drug policies that have been effective in "trying to point students toward making responsible choices, not overly policing them, while at the same time putting up pretty clear guardrails." An interview request from The Associated Press was denied.
A spokeswoman for Middletown police, Lt. Heather Desmond, said Wesleyan has been more "forthright" in recent years about involving them in drug cases. Still, she said there are cases of drug-related illnesses on campus that involve emergency medical responders, but not police.
Dispatchers sent police to campus to aid with the response to a 19-year-old woman who became ill after taking Molly on Sept. 13, the second of two consecutive weekends in which Wesleyan students were hospitalized after taking the drug. Desmond said police did not follow up, likely because it would be difficult to pursue a case involving an intoxicated woman who took a single pill. Wesleyan health officials alerted students to the hospitalizations in an all-campus email that urged them to be aware of the drug's effects and potential side-effects.
As students began getting sick on the morning of Feb. 22, a witness told Wesleyan public safety that they bought what they thought was Molly from one of the four defendants in September, took half the pill and had a reaction similar to the students involved in latest incident. Information from students, the dean's office and public safety sources led police to the suspects, including two who were known to sell Molly from their residences, according to arrest warrants.
The family of the only victim still in the hospital said Friday night that "against all odds" the student would survive.