Posted: November 29, 2017 at 10:06 pm

By: Rebecca Toro, Tyler Mason, and Michael Bediako

In October, a sophomore at West Virginia University overdosed during Tent City, an annual homecoming event in which students camp out behind the Mountainlair. On Oct. 12, this student went to a fraternity party, where she drank and ingested drugs. She ended up in a tent unconscious and foaming from the mouth. She was rushed to the hospital and students who had not already put up a tent were sent home for the night.

The 19-year-old student is one of the many students at WVU who are abusing drugs and alcohol. Even though campus arrests for illegal drug use have declined slightly since 2011, the number of student referrals for illegal drug use has sharply increased since the same year, according to the Campus Clery report, crime data that universities are required to compile and report to the federal Department of Education. Referrals often lead to judicial conduct investigations, which, depending on the severity of the offense, may require counseling, community service or suspensions.

Residents of Monongalia County (which includes Morgantown) also have a higher rate of drug abuse than the rest of the state, according to the Monongalia County Health and Human Resources Bureau.

From 2009 to 2016 on-campus arrests for illegal drug use have remained relatively stable, while on-campus referrals from dormitories and police have soared.
Credit: WVU Campus Clery Report

The high demand for illegal drugs by WVU students may also contribute to violent crime. In recent years, violent crime in the Morgantown metropolitan area has stayed consistently high. The number of violent crimes edged up to 89 in 2016, compared to 81 in 2014 and 2015. Some of the violence can be attributed to drug dealers from out of state who bring in illegal drugs to sell and then steal from each other.

“Most of the violence connected to the drug trade is what we call business violence,” said Jesse Wozniak, a professor of sociology at WVU.

In recent years, drug-related crimes in Monongalia County have not decreased markedly despite intensive efforts by local law enforcement. In 2013, there were 338 reported drug crime offenses in Monongalia County; in 2014, there were 274 and in 2015, 278, according to the most current data available from the FBI Uniform Crime report. Statistics from 2016 are not yet available.

Illegal drug use at WVU may be higher than at other schools because of its reputation as a party school. Wozniak says the high demand for street drugs among WVU students encourages drug dealers from as far away as Detroit to travel to Morgantown.

Once here, they get into altercations with other drug dealers. In August 2016, for example, Morgantown Police charged Karmit Arnold Banks, 34, of Eastpointe, Michigan, with burglary and malicious assault after he shot a woman in a South Park residence. Banks apparently stormed into the home of another alleged drug dealer. A fight ensued between the two men and Banks shot the other man’s girlfriend in the leg. He pleaded guilty to burglary. On Nov. 27, Banks was sentenced to a maximum of 10 years in prison.

“It’s not always the users [who are involved in the violence]; it’s the people selling [drugs],” said WVU Police Chief Bob Roberts.

On Oct. 16, law enforcement arrested several other out of towners whom they accuse of selling drugs. The Monongalia County Drug Task force raided an apartment on Baird Street and arrested Titus Dove, 24, of Detroit, Michigan, and Kayla Prince, 26, of Morgantown. They were charged with intent to deliver crack cocaine and heroin.

During this year’s Tent City, a young woman overdosed on drugs. The university shut down Tent City for the night. Credit: Emma Slaney

A WVU student living nearby said she noticed suspicious activity in that apartment. Random men went in and out of the apartment constantly and she saw one man give another man a huge bag of what appeared to be dog food and in return receive a large amount of cash.

“Drug business, really like any business, you’re going to go where the customers are,” said Wozniak.

While some WVU students like the easy accessibility to drugs, others pay a stiff price. The 19-year-old who overdosed at Tent City did recover and was released from the hospital a few days later. However, every year at least one WVU student dies from a drug overdose.

Other students say there needs to be a greater awareness of the harm that illegal drug use can cause.

“Educating people about the effect of drugs can [lead to] less violence and overdoses,” said Erin King, a 21-year-old WVU senior.