Nate Poliakoff, whose sister’s death of a drug overdose one year ago sparked the undercover investigation at San Diego State University that resulted in the arrests of 96 people Tuesday, said parents underestimate the availability and intensity of drugs on college campuses today.
“I think parents are unaware of the severity of the drug problem,” Poliakoff told TODAY’s Matt Lauer Wednesday from Poway, Calif. “They may be comparing it back to when they were in school, when marijuana may have been the big, prevalent drug. People can experiment with that and it’s not going to cost you your life. It’s not as intense as cocaine, Ecstasy, OxyContin — things of that sort — so I think there’s a substantial difference in the drugs being used.”
In Tuesday’s raid, law enforcement authorities seized $60,000 in cash, several guns, two kilograms of cocaine, 50 pounds of marijuana, 350 Ecstasy pills, and quantities of psychedelic mushrooms, hash oil, methamphetamine and illicit prescription drugs, including the painkiller OxyContin. Of those arrested, 75 were students at San Diego State.
Poliakoff was not surprised at the quantities of drugs seized.
“The main surprise was actually the guns,” he said. “The numbers don’t really surprise me because the drug problem on college campuses everywhere is really, really growing.”
A fatal mistake
Poliakoff’s younger sister, Jenny Poliakoff, was found dead in her bedroom a year ago Tuesday after drinking and using cocaine at her sorority’s spring formal. She was 19 and a good student, active in a local charity for children with special needs. She wasn’t a habitual drug user, her brother said — just a student who went out to party and made one mistake.
“When they say she overdosed, it sounds really bad. When you hear that, you assume someone in their room doing drugs 24/7, partying all the time and just being a drug addict, and that wasn’t the case,” Poliakoff said. “She made one mistake and it cost her her life. The big message is it only takes one mistake that could cost you your life or someone else’s life.”
After Jenny’s death, her sorority searched for a way to preserve her memory and decided to hold a walkathon, Jenny’s Walk, to raise funds for the San Diego Friendship Circle, the charity she had become involved with as a senior in high school.
“It pairs kids with special needs such as autism and Down syndrome with local teens in the community — play dates essentially during the week,” Poliakoff said. “They do homework; hang out. They also have Sunday Fun Days at the Friendship Circle headquarters, where they have carnivals and social events that help mainstream the kids into society and things of that nature.”
The university’s entire Greek community participated, he said, and Jenny’s Walk ended up raising $104,000 in six weeks. “It was a really, really big success,” Poliakoff said.
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After Tuesday’s raids, San Diego State suspended six fraternities because of their involvement in the probe. One of the students arrested was due to graduate this month with a degree in criminal justice. Another was working on his master's degree in homeland security.
Investigators said that the ring advertised the availability of drugs via text messages and even ran sales. They said the ring was indiscriminate in who it dealt with, readily selling to undercover agents on the basis of a query sent by text message.
Poliakoff said his family had been unaware that an undercover investigation had even been launched. The university had requested the probe after Jenny Poliakoff’s death. During the investigation, another student died of an accidental overdose.
Poliakoff has also said that those arrested will quickly be replaced by other dealers, and unless the crackdown continues, drug use will continue on campus.
Lauer observed that many people look at experimenting with drugs and alcohol as part of the college experience and learning about life.
“It’s not learning about life if it costs you your life,” Poliakoff answered. “The trade-off isn’t one, I think, anyone wants to make.”