Don Buhler is tall with shaggy hair. He’s a Central Oregon Community College student in his early twenties.
And when he stands outside of Ochoco to smoke marijuana out of a pipe designed to look like a cigarette no one is the wiser.
“I used to get stoned every day before class, I never used to go unless I was baked,” he said. “I’ve also drank beer in the bathroom.” Beer and pot aren’t the only things Buhler has consumed before attending class at COCC.
Percocet, Vicodin and Xanax are among his other drugs of choice.
He’s not alone.
Drug use is prevalent on the COCC campus despite that alcohol and drugs are banned from the “dry” campus, said Robert McDilda, campus safety and security supervisor.
“We take this seriously,” said Gordon Price, the director of student life. Students said it’s more difficult to concentrate and that the learning environment on campus is compromised when classmates come to school under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
“It can be distracting because when other people are trying to focus, those people are in their own world,” said COCC student Vanessa Morrell. According to official COCC crime statistics, 16 drug and 129 liquor violations have occurred on campus in the last five years. These offenses are the most common crime committed on campus.
The drug problem has risen 350% and the liquor violations have decreased 45.9%, over the last five years. COCC crime logs show 22 incidences and three possible incidences of drug and alcohol abuse that happened on campus during the 2009 school year.
Out of all incidences, 11 were due to alcohol and an additional 11 were a result of marijuana. However, students say the number of people under the influence of drugs or alcohol is far higher.
The problem is not particular to COCC.
Steve Esselstyn, the community liaison at the Bend Police Department, said methamphetamine and cocaine are major problems in Central Oregon. Heroin is making a comeback in the community, as well, he said. Though the biggest issue of all is alcohol.
Throughout Central Oregon, marijuana, methamphetamine and cocaine are being brought up from Southern California and Mexico, as well as a noticeable rise with heroin use, he said. Depending on the fluctuation of the economy there are different drugs being abused, the richer the economy the more meth and coke is available, said Esselstyn.
Over three trillion dollars has been spent on the war on drugs since 1971, and drugs are hitting younger age groups harder, even to the point where meth has cherry flavoring being added before sales to mask the bitterness of the drug, he said.
These problems have spilled over to COCC, but based on his experience, Esselstyn said COCC is “no worse or better than any campus.”
Lucas Skinner, a student at Western Oregon University in Monmouth, said drugs and alcohol are common at his school, too. He said students use illegal substances to relieve stress.
“I used to smoke a lot of weed before my classes because it helped me cope and deal with the stress that was involved,” said Skinner.
Buhler echoed Skinner’s comments, saying he feels the need to be under the influence in order to feel more open to classroom discussions.
“I like to be loosened up,” he said. “It makes me feel more (open) when there are class discussions.” Esselstyn said that selling drugs is also a problem at COCC.
In 2008, a drug dealer was caught selling marijuana out of his van to fellow students. When he was busted, officers found a pound of marijuana in his dorm room.
In fact, the residence hall, Juniper Hall, is the location of the majority of the documented alcohol and drug incidents. In 2010, all the alcohol and drug incidences occurred at Juniper Hall with the exception of one violation occurring as a man smoked pot in his car.
“Everyone coming into the residence hall has to go through an alcohol and drug awareness program, and a follow up piece about what you know after one month,” said Gordon Price.
Students who are found to have violated drug and alcohol policies are dealt with through the college’s disciplinary arm, which is managed by Price. He also manages complaints from teachers about alcohol and drug violations, but said only about five percent of teacher complaints are a result of drug or alcohol abuse by students.
“The majority of the time what actually happens is the student receives a warning or disciplinary action, if the problem persists suspension is possible,” he said.
Price explained that different situations require different disciplinary action; for example if the student is just being loud or obnoxious, campus security may get involved. In circumstances in which a person can cause immediate harm or threat to him or herself, the Bend Police would be involved.
McDilda explained that alcohol abuse in the dorms has decreased because of the involvement of campus
security. Police are contacted by campus security when a suspect poses a threat to themselves or others, or has clearly broken the law said McDilda.
In some cases, the district attorney may file criminal charges. Students report that the disc golf course is also a campus hot spot for drug and alcohol abuse.
On a recent afternoon at the disc golf course, a group of students drank beer openly, a woman sat on a rock drinking from a Grey Goose vodka bottle and a man put what appeared to be a marijuana pipe in his pocket and walk away.
Empty beer bottles and cans litter the disc golf course and fill trash cans to the brim. Drug and alcohol abuse are inevitable among college campuses, and despite consequences, some students take the risk to cope with the stress of college, while others abuse for recreation.
When McDilda arrived at COCC in 2004, he became the Campus Safety Security Coordinator, and began patrolling the area more, previously compared to no patrol, and considerably lowered the amount of violations. By increasing patrol throughout the campus, the same technique can reduce the overall number of violations for years to come.
Although we are considered no better than any other campus it is evident that COCC has problems with drugs and alcohol. By forcing resident hall students to go through drug and alcohol awareness programs, patrolling areas more, and having a general awareness of the situation at school, COCC can potentially eliminate drug and alcohol use and abuse.
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