State Rep. Carney Proposes Substance-Free Housing for State Universities

State Rep. Devin Carney, R-Old Saybrook (CT Examiner)


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HARTFORD — State Rep. Devin Carney, R-Old Saybrook, says his initiative to mandate drug and alcohol-free housing options at state universities with on-campus residences is crucial for “saving lives.”

“There are a lot of kids and a lot of people that have succumbed to drug addiction, overdoses and suicide related to that addiction or to alcohol,” the Education Committee member said. “I want people to know that there is help out there, that there are other options, and that it’s not the end. I don’t want to see obituaries in the paper anymore of younger people dying from drug overdoses or related suicides.”

Carney told CT Examiner on Wednesday that people in recovery or those with family members in recovery would likely prefer a substance-free living environment, though some students might choose it for religious or personal reasons as well.  

Carney, who recently wrote a letter to the Committee on Higher Education and Employment Advancement asking it to consider his proposal, said he fashioned the bill from one recently implemented in New Jersey.

The New Jersey bill requires that public universities providing housing to at least 25 percent of their students offer a form of substance-free living accommodations. However, Carney’s bill would only require that the University of Connecticut, Eastern Connecticut State University, Western Connecticut State University, Southern Connecticut State University and Central Connecticut State University provide students with substance-free housing — a building wing or hall where students agree to keep their rooms free from alcohol and drugs.

The New Jersey bill also includes a counseling aspect, while Carney’s does not.

“I don’t want there to be a stigma associated with this. So if a student wants to live there and they don’t want to say why, we should protect those students,” he said.

Regarding enforcement mechanisms to ensure substance-free living, Carney said he’s in “the exploratory phase” and that those details would be hammered out in any final bill.

Currently, UConn and Eastern offer substance-free living options and would not be affected by the Carney proposal.

Western does not offer substance-free housing, while Southern and Central residence halls are substance-free but allow alcohol in specified upperclassmen housing. 

Under Carney’s proposal, Western, Southern and Central would still need to offer a specific place where all students agree not to drink or use drugs.

Sam Norton, a spokesperson for the Connecticut State Colleges and Universities, which oversees the state universities, told CT Examiner in a statement that, “CSCU is committed to offering housing options to students that provide a sense of community and healthy living. Our universities offer different options for students related to substance-free housing. CSCU is open to working with the Higher Education and Employment Advancement Committee on this proposal.”

Meanwhile, UConn spokesperson Stephanie Reitz said its substance-free housing initiative has been a success.

“UConn launched its Recovery Community in 2011 and started offering it as a residential community in 2017,” Reitz told CT Examiner in a statement. “The students develop strong bonds with each other and the program’s managers, and the housing provides them with an inviting and supportive community where they can focus on their academic careers and maintain the substance-free lives which they’ve committed themselves. It’s been a successful program at UConn, and an important part of the lives of many Huskies over the last 13 years.”

Eastern’s Vice President of Student Affairs Michelle Delaney said the university has offered substance-free living options for almost 20 years and that it has “been well-received by students.”  

Carney, who attended Brandeis University in Massachusetts, said his proposal is about allowing young people to feel comfortable and enjoy their college years. 

“It’s something that is very important to me. It is something that has affected my family, and I just want to make sure that this particular population has somebody that is advocating for them and that they know the state cares about them,” he said. “Addiction and mental health issues can really impact somebody’s life, but it does not have to be somebody’s whole life.”

Carney said he expects bipartisan support for the measure.

“Both sides of the aisle recognize that there have been people struggling with mental health and addiction, particularly during the pandemic and post-pandemic,” he said. “It’s not just a Connecticut issue. This is a national issue.”

Carney’s proposal also received positive reviews from individuals working to address substance abuse issues among young people.

“We think it’s an excellent idea and that students should really have a choice,” said Stacey Lawton, CEO of the Southeastern Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence. “There’s a whole host of reasons that students might choose that type of housing, including for religious reasons and for academic success. We know that alcohol and drug use is a significant part of college culture and that alcohol abuse is a major problem on university campuses across the country. If we can offer this kind of alternative to our youth, why wouldn’t we do that?’’

SCADD was founded in 1966 and provides treatment services to people seeking recovery. 

Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services Commissioner Nancy Navaretta said in a statement that the agency is working to promote substance-free environments in higher learning.

“In the last week, we launched a survey through the Connecticut Healthy Campus initiative that will be used to develop a toolkit for colleges and universities to address their strengths and limitations,” the statement read. “While this is still in the data gathering and assessment phase, we do anticipate that some form of substance-free housing option will be one of many options in the toolkit to provide a safe and comfortable space for students asking for help without stigmatization.”

Robert Storace

Robert Storace is a veteran reporter with stints at New Britain Herald, the New Haven Register, the Connecticut Post, Hartford Business Journal and the Connecticut Law Tribune. Storace covers the State Capitol for CT Examiner. T: 203 437 5950