UNB has a diverse student body, and many of its members excel in their academics or are actively involved in the campus community—but there is a very different type of activity that goes on at UNB once the book-bags are zipped up and the weekend finally arrives.
For our sex, drugs & rock n’ roll issue, I went undercover at one of the “student ghetto’s” many ragers—the best ones usually have some sort of colourful, slightly confusing theme it seems—to see for myself UNB’s “party culture” and the student perspectives.
Walking into a house party in the “student ghetto”—the colossal mass of student housing that starts where campus ends, stretching from Windsor to Regent—is an experience unto itself. Someone unfamiliar to the flashing lights, sweaty bodies and bumping bass would undoubtedly feel overwhelmed.
It’s unlikely that any of these newbies to the party scene will find their way into one of the closed doors—in the basement, up the stairs—that for many at the party contain the night’s main attractions.
It is here, away from the main party, where students dump bags of cocaine onto the same table that hosts the bong being passed around the room—weed is good, but it’s the harder stuff that students are looking for on nights like these.
In the bathroom, a group of girls assess if they’d started feeling the molly they popped before the walk to the party or if it’s time for another hit.
“I do drugs because they’re so fucking awesome. They’re amazing! I forgot how much molly felt this good. It just feels amazing,” said second-year UNB student R (The Brunswickan has chosen to identify students by their initials).
“It’s just a good time altogether; like, you do all the same shit and it gets you fired up, and it gets you fired up together, and then you get each other pumped up and you’re just like—”
R’s bathroom buddy, S, also in her second year at UNB, has smoked weed before—but has yet to try typical ‘party drugs’ such as cocaine and ecstacy—most often referred to as molly by those “rolling” on the drug.
“I’ve never done any of that shit. I don’t know, I’m just scared to do it. I feel like—I don’t know—I don’t wanna be peer pressured to do it. I don’t wanna be like, ‘oh everyone does this so I’m gonna do it,’ so like, if I wanna do it I’ll do it—but right now I don’t wanna do it,” said S.
For other students at the party, their peers’ influence was exactly why they chose to dabble in harder drugs. N said that while he’d tried them before coming to university, he’s used them more often since he moved to Fredericton for school.
“It just seemed like everyone was doing it. Everyone was having so much fun—and, I don’t know…there’s a little part of me that’s like sort of guilty, but the rest of me is like socializing and just, I don’t know, it’s awesome,” said N.
“I want to get it out of my system now; that’s how I justify it, sort of. I know [about the risk] and I try not to think about it because I know I’m being reckless—but, I wanna get it out of my system in the next year or two because I don’t wanna be older and still doing this shit.”
After the behind-the-scenes tour, rejoining the main part of the party, things were viewed in an entirely different light. Everywhere you look you see students grinding—not each other—but their teeth as their jaws cease to stay still, a standard side-effect to the highly coveted “rolling” feeling one gets on ecstacy.
On the couches, elevated over the crowd, rows of students were dancing as if possessed by the beat, sweat dripping down their faces. In the backyard, the “dumb boys” breaking a table just finished ripping their sixth or sixteenth line of coke—and the night’s still young.
Students at a UNB party—that much is clear. The same faces that one sees frequenting the SUB throughout the school week are seen again in a completely different way under the disco-lit darkness. Students who barely nod at each other as they pass through the halls are now violently hugging and declaring their eternal love for one another.
“It lets people open up in a way that they would never do in a sober mindset, and that allows their connections to grow stronger” said S.B., a third-year UNB student at the party.
However, there is risk attached to all this “awesome”—it was just last semester that S.B. said a friend of a friend had died from a fentanyl overdose, one of the main concerns for students currently participating in recreational drug activity.
The ‘party culture’ lifestyle broken down: risks, reasons, regret?
According to Dr. Jennifer Russell, acting chief medical officer of health in New Brunswick, recreational drug use among Canadians aged 15-24 is quite low, hovering at around 3.5 per cent.
Russell emphasized that the main users are not university students, but those identified as part of the higher-risk population—people experiencing homelessness, those involved in street activities and those who live in bigger urban centres.
“For recreational users, it’s kind of random in the sense that you don’t know when they’re going to use, you don’t know what the substances will be…and the fact that people don’t know when the products are going to be laced with fentanyl or not,” said Russell.
Fentanyl is an opioid that has traditionally been prescribed for chronic pain, but Canada has recently been the target of illegal high-dose fentanyl from China—and increasingly from illegal North American drug labs, which Russell says is 100 times more potent than regular fentanyl; just a drop of it on someone’s skin could end their life.
In April 2016, British Columbia declared a public health emergency due to the presence of extremely high-potency fentanyl in street drugs and counterfeit percocet pills—unaware that their drugs were laced, people began dying from fentanyl overdose in alarming numbers.
“There were two populations of people who were dying from these overdoses,” said Russell. “There were the hardcore—you know—substance abuse kind of type population, and then the people who were using it recreationally on weekends, who weren’t regular users.”
“It was very troubling because these are young people who are healthy, in the prime of their lives, dying from this. Mostly on the recreational side, you know, people from the ages of 20 to 25, like really, really unbelievable.”
Russell said the large amount of money involved is what makes people use high-dose fentanyl to cut other drugs, and therefore risk the lives of their customers.
“From a safety perspective, it’s like playing russian roulette, really.”
According to Russell, the amount of high-dose fentanyl that’s been reported in BC hasn’t appeared in Fredericton yet, but the province has been taking strides to prepare for such an event.
However, these steps are not being duplicated by recreational users like the students experimenting with party drugs at UNB.
“It’s not a logical thought process”
After the party, I sat down with some of the students I’d met there to find out just how aware students are of the risks associated with drug use, and whether that impacts their decision to use.
SB said that they first heard of fentanyl in 2015 after a trip to Ontario to visit family.
“My cousin’s friend that lives down the road, who she grew up figure skating with, died of fentanyl in her sleep,” said SB. “She never woke up the next morning, and yeah…It was percocets, I think.”
AM, a third-year student at UNB, said that the threat of fentanyl makes her want to use less, but doesn’t completely keep her away.
“It’s not a logical thought process, I never do drugs sober, so I’m always already pretty fucked up when I decide to do drugs,” said AM.
“If I see someone else do the drugs I’m about to do first, I’m like ‘oh— they’re okay, I’m gonna be okay,’” said SB.
Both admitted that they would have no idea how to tell if they or anyone around them were overdosing.
“Honestly, I’d have to have like, at least three other people agreeing that we have to call the ambulance; I wouldn’t be able to make that decision myself,” said AM. “[Unless they were like] frothing at the mouth or something—like unless they’re showing very very obvious signs of a real overdose, which I really don’t know what they are.”
Naloxone kits contain a drug that used to be only found in emergency rooms and reduces the effect of opioids. Administering one to someone that’s gone unconscious from drug use can wake them up immediately and save their life.
AM said that having naloxone kits available for anyone who asks for them might be a way “that they could help us do safer drugs if we are choosing to do them,” since both Russell and AM believe that it’s unlikely to assume people will stop doing drugs.
“Our advice is don’t use at all, but we know realistically we can’t stop people from using drugs, so what can we do to reduce the harms?” said Russell. “We would say ‘don’t use alone,’ if the person you’re with stops breathing, start CPR, call 911. If you have a naloxone kit available, then you would administer that.”
“Across the country, naloxone kits are being made available to people who are at risk of overdosing. So here in this province, we’ve been approved by federal and provincial governments to purchase so many kits, available for higher risk populations, people who use regularly, that are available at needle exchange programs with AIDS NB and with our detox programs.”
Currently, the province’s focus is targeted less at recreational drug users and more-so on those with substance use disorders and those in higher-risk populations, so it’s uncertain if naloxone kits would be available to university students who want to use drugs on the weekend.
Despite the risks, neither AM nor SB regret trying harder drugs, and say that the experience alone has made it worthwhile.
“But it’s bad because every single time you do it, you feel like you’re having the best time ever—so when a big event comes along, you feel like you have to do it in order to have the best time ever,” said SB.
While the students were unsure if they would ever stop using marijuana—“It’s so relaxing,” said SB—a future substance use disorder was not something either was worried about.
“I just think I’m resilient as fuck. I don’t really have an addictive personality,” said AM. “I feel like if I ever get to the point where I’m buying coke from this guy and I’m gonna keep it for myself and not tell anyone, that’s the line for me.”
For now, the students are simply using for the good times that come out of it, and trying not to think about how quickly the good time could go wrong.
“It gives you a whole different perspective on everything,” said SB. “You just think of things in a way that you’ve never thought of them before.”
Photo by Book Sadprasid.