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reed magazine logoJune 2010

Fatal Overdose Focuses Attention on Drug Use at Reed

By Chris Lydgate

Like other colleges across the country, Reed has long confronted the intractable problem of drug and alcohol abuse. The ongoing discussion gained renewed urgency in March, with the fatal heroin overdose of physics senior Sam Tepper ’10 in his off-campus apartment. As news of the calamity rippled through campus, students, professors, and staff alike grappled with a range of emotions: shock, grief, horror, bewilderment, frustration, and anger, followed by a host of difficult questions. How could this happen? Why did it happen? What can we do to prevent these sorts of tragedies?

These questions carry particular force because two years ago, freshman Alejandro Lluch ’11 suffered a fatal heroin overdose in his dorm room, prompting similar anguish.

President Colin Diver

President Colin Diver delivers a clear message about drug abuse.

Photograph by Edis Jurcys

Even before Alejandro’s death, Reed had launched an initiative to review its approach to drug and alcohol use on campus. In the wake of that tragedy, the college adopted far-reaching changes to its standing procedures. It redoubled its efforts at prevention and education, strengthened its counseling staff, and clarified language on enforcement.

While the new stance has been widely applauded, it is clear that drug and alcohol abuse remains an extraordinarily difficult, complex, and stubborn problem. Heroin is a particular concern: since the mid-1990s, studies have shown a substantial uptick in heroin use among young people, especially in the Pacific Northwest, driven partly by greater purity, which has made it possible for users to get high without employing needles, and partly by the unfortunate phenomenon that researchers refer to as “generational forgetting.”

At a campus-wide forum on drug use and the honor principle following Sam’s death, President Colin Diver delivered a clear message: “The use of hard drugs destroys lives and destroys the college,” he said. “We have to drive this off campus and out of the lives of our students.”

Sam’s parents, Alan and Barbara Tepper, echoed this call to action. “Reed must implement a strong and effective, yet humane, policy to curtail the use of illicit drugs among its students,” they told Reed. “It’s a tragedy that so many of the promising young lives that Reed works so hard to prepare for the real world are so at risk. Please let Sam be the last!”

Shaping a Policy

Reed has long forbidden the use of illegal drugs, for reasons which are obvious but which bear repeating. They inflict real harm. They are incompatible with the college’s mission. They are against the law. If that were not enough, Congress amended the Drug-Free Schools and Communities Act in 1989, requiring institutions of higher education to adopt drug-prevention programs in order to receive any form of federal assistance, including grants and student loans. Those regulations specifically state that campuses must prohibit illicit drugs. For all these reasons, the college’s official Drug and Alcohol Policy has for many years declared that “illegal drugs and drug paraphernalia are not permitted anywhere on the Reed College campus” and that substance abuse “should be treated with exceptional concern and gravity.”

reed magazine logoJune 2010