As the repercussions of the nearly 50-year U.S. War on Drugs are revealing themselves to be harmful and life-threatening, especially to lower-class and minority populations, social movements aimed at drug policy reform have been on the rise. While today's generation of college students were raised on abstinence-based discourses, which constantly warned and threatened them about the dangers of drug use, these same students often change their perspective, some as early as high school, when they begin having their own experiences with drugs and engage in more drug-related conversations. As a result, many students become motivated to change drug policy and education and address the stigma associated with drug use in order to reduce drug-related harm to individuals. This thesis examines the ideas and efforts of students at a university in the southeastern United States who are actively engaged in making these changes. Based on interviews with students involved with two drug policy reform groups in 2018, this thesis highlights the role of student activism in the larger drug policy reform movement. Student activists raise awareness of the need for a critical examination of U.S. drug policy frameworks and their place in this endeavor. I argue that student activists' involvement in the drug policy reform movement is motivated by the numerous disparities they experience and observe in the dominant abstinence-based drug approach. Based on these students' perspectives, I argue for a shift towards a more holistic harm reduction education that aims to increase the quality of care and livelihood for drug users, an accomplishment they believe is inextricable from U.S. policy.

Thesis Completion




Thesis Chair/Advisor

Harris, Shana


Bachelor of Science (B.S.)


College of Sciences




Orlando (Main) Campus



Access Status

Open Access

Release Date