Colleges Confront Issue of Drug Informants on Campus

In light of recent tragedies, the use of students as drug informants on college campuses is becoming a rising issue. Last October, a student at UMass Amherst, identified by his middle name Logan, died of a heroin overdose not even a year after he became a drug informant for the campus police.

According to a text message Logan sent to a friend in May of last year, he said the cops gave him an “offer he couldn’t refuse” after he was caught selling drugs in his residence hall at school. As part of this offer, Logan received no disciplinary action and his parents were not notified of his drug use. In return, Logan had to act as a drug informant and report back to the cops who on campus he was selling drugs to. Had Logan refused, he could have faced a minimum of five years in jail.

Courtesy of UMass Amherst Police Department / Facebook

Image courtesy of UMass Amherst Police Department / Facebook

Questions are now being raised as to whether or not this is a safe environment to place students into. Should parents be notified of their child’s drug use as soon as the school finds out? Logan's mother strongly believes she should have been notified, stating, “only parents can help their children even if by law they are adults.” Had the police notified the parents, would Logan’s overdose still have occurred? Many believe not; opponents of the drug informant system say that instead of helping the students’ drug issue, it only drags them in deeper.

UMass Amherst has been using students as drug informants since 2009, but as of September 30 of this year the program has been suspended. According to a Boston Globe article, Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy wrote, “The well-being and health of our students is paramount, and the university must do all in its power to educate and protect our community from the dangers of drug abuse. We must also focus our best efforts on sustaining an environment where every student can learn, thrive, and mature.”

Many UMass students are happy with this decision. Junior Sebastian Vivas told the Globe, “CIs on campus make me uncomfortable,” he said. “It’s unethical. It’s just a really bad, really unfair spot to put kids in.”

Neither Boston College, Northeastern University, Boston University, nor Tufts University use students as drug informants.

Florida State University says they do use this practice, but will not recruit someone if there is any suspicion of a drug problem. Students recruited to be informants are required to go through heavy questioning to ensure they are not using any illegal substances.

Had UMass Amherst used a similar system, Logan most likely would have gotten help after he was caught dealing drugs rather than being tossed back into the school’s drug scene. Whether or not that would have prevented his overdose is impossible to know, but it remains the topic of much discussion.

The general consensus of students seems to be against the use of students as drug informants, but there is evidence to show that it produces results. In 2013, confidential informants were used to arrest 99 people, including 61 University of Alabama students, in the biggest drug bust in Tuscaloosa’s history.

UMass Amherst is currently reviewing their system and deliberating over the two biggest problems of whether students recruited into the program should be required to get help for possible addictions, and whether the student’s parents should be informed of the situation.

UMass’s decision to keep the program or not is still unknown, but either way, confidential drug informants on campuses everywhere will all be given a second look after the recent tragedy.

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