Speakers’ event for students fails to attract attention

Despite the recent rash of ecstasy-related deaths, few showed up to hear a talk about drug awareness at Mount Royal University last Thursday.

The room was mainly empty during the event, apart from speakers Linda Scurr of Alberta Health Services’ adult addiction program and Const. Tracy Starchuk of the Calgary Police drug unit.

Starting last July, ecstasy pills containing paramethoxymethamphetamine (PMMA) has been implicated in the deaths of nine people in Calgary and another five in B.C. Last February, authorities also saw six deaths and countless hospitalizations.

But what was with the empty seats?

“It could be busy lifestyles, but I think it goes back to people thinking it won’t affect them personally, when in fact I think it’s just the opposite,” Starchuk said about the lack of attendees.

Starchuk, along with Scurr, spoke on different ways drugs impact users and society at large, touching on heroin, crack cocaine, and now ecstasy.Ecstasy has been confirmed to be the cause of death for nine Calgarians since July.
Photo illustration by: Kim Wright

The speaking engagement was the last part of D.A.T.E. Awareness Week put on by peer health students at MRU. D.A.T.E., which stands for “drug, alcohol and tobacco education” was meant to spread awareness of the risks of substance abuse to students.

Getting them involved is always a challenge, said Shermin Murji, health education coordinator at Mount Royal’s Wellness Services.

“We know Mount Royal is a commuter campus,” she said. “Students come, do their schooling, then leave. They don’t tend to stick around very much, so we aimed to do it during the day when students are on campus.”

Murji said it was a student-led initiative, and timely because of the recent spate of ecstasy related deaths.

Around 1.5 per cent of Mount Royal students reported having a substance abuse problem or drug addiction, according to the 2010 National College Health Assessment.

Drug Awareness Tips

• More often than not, your dealer ultimately doesn’t care about you; in the end, it’s just business to them.

• MDMA or ecstasy is often cut with other chemicals, so users can never be sure if they’re getting just ecstasy.

• Marijuana grow ops can be found in every neighbourhood, regardless of income level or class.

• The purchase of illegal drugs affects all levels of society, from law enforcement, to businesses, to schools, etc.

• Much of the drugs currently in the province originated in B.C.

• Houses that contain meth labs often have to be completely torn down due to structural and environmental damage from cooking the drug.

Source: Alberta Health Services and the Calgary Police Service

That number is slightly higher than the 1.2 per cent reported by the test group of 95,712 students from 139 schools.

Despite the poor turnout, Murji said it was still important to get the message out.

“They wanted to bring it to campus and say, ‘This might affect you in someway’ and we can’t just bury our heads in the sand.”

Roddy Mayers, a peer health educator and nursing student who helped organize the event, said timing might have also contributed to lack of attendance. “I understand this is during school hours, so a lot of students have classes.”

Although they advertised the event, Mayers admitted that they started advertising late.

Looking at other events on campus that have been successful, Murji referenced an event in February called “Porn and Pizza” held by MRU’s Multi-Faith Chaplaincy.

The event, which discussed pornography and spirituality, drew a crowd of around 100, she said.

Murji said having a more “racy” image while getting the information across may be key in drawing crowds as well as creating a forum for students to discuss the issue at hand.

jsimpson@cjournal.ca