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The False Drug Mythology “Anything Goes” Attitude Dangerous, Immature

Guest Column
Robert M. Randolph

One of the surprising things about MIT is the number of myths that abound in the community. They range from the origins of Sport Death (the ubiquitous attention grabber on Senior House T-shirts) to illusions about pervasive objectivity. Some of the myths are harmless and some are not.

One MIT myth is that drug use is simply a personal decision without communal or other implications. A recent publication that appeared on campus argues that if you know the facts about drugs, you have nothing else to worry about. Avoid a few bad products, use your head and you will be all right. Again, it is an attractive myth. Certainly the older members of our community need to be wary of pontificating, because from caffeine to tobacco to alcohol, we have our blind spots. But experience has also taught us a few things that are worth remembering. Anything from work to sex to marijuana can be addictive if the situation is right. Not to talk about these things means you do not have all the facts. Not to listen when they are talked about is foolish.

Then there is the implication that drug use has no social significance. Some say we are talking about personal choices and any damage only results from ignorance and affects only the user. That is simply not true. From the money that corrupts politicians and governments to the deadness of those who live from fix to fix, experience cries out to us that the cost is far greater than we would like to hear.

On a personal level, I have had to talk to an unfortunately large number of families who have suffered losses due to drug use. Students here have lost friends and family members to drugs and some are on paths to radically diminished lives if they cannot move beyond their current dependence. As they suffer, their families suffer. Do not try to tell them that only the individual pays the cost of drug use.

Facts are important; “DAMIT: The Guide to the Intoxicated Engineer” is well meaning, if glib. In a community that really cares about people, individuals can count on their friends to support them if they choose to not use drugs. And those that do choose to use them need to remember that choices have consequences, and sometimes the consequences are deadly. The implications of drug use are always far wider than we might like to think.

Finally, there is the half-true myth that MIT treats students like adults. The truth is that sometimes we do and sometimes we do not. Being an adult using drugs in the real world means that the consequences include running afoul of the law. Sometimes that has been true here, but more often, in the minds of many, MIT is a place where you can experiment without risk. Recent events indicate that that is not true, and I think it is time for that message to be delivered clearly. If there was ever a myth that needed to be replaced with truth, it is the notion that “here on campus, anything goes.” It is a tough world and getting an education is not easy. Opting to self-medicate your way through the struggle turns out to not be as attractive as it seems.

Those are the facts. Finally, another myth can be dispelled. No one has a right to use drugs in a dormitory or house. Students who wish to live in a drug-free environment can do so, and do not need to bow to those who put themselves and others at risk.

Robert M. Randolph is Senior Associate Dean for Undergraduate Education and Student Affairs.