Parillo: A Tale of Two Toxins
I’m not on campus this term, but I still like to keep up with things by reading The Dartmouth each morning. Although the news I read is at times encouraging, dismaying or boring, rarely is it as utterly baffling as this gem, tucked away at the end of a recent
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article on high attendance at Collis After Dark programs: “Collis After Dark will host a relaxation night in Collis Common Ground on Saturday, with massages, an oxygen bar and tea tasting.”

Although I am genuinely pleased the College has managed to provide programming that students actually want to attend, the concept of an oxygen bar was somewhat foreign to me. It sounded like just the type of new-age quackery I wish Dartmouth would avoid. Sure enough, a quick perusal of Google turns up all kinds of ridiculousness: I read all about how to cure cancer and remove “toxins” by breathing in 30 to 40 percent oxygen (as opposed to the supposedly detrimental 20.9 percent provided by nature over the past millions of years of human evolution). So far, standard snake oil. Until I also discovered that oxygen bars are illegal. According to a bulletin from the FDA, the agency “regards oxygen to be a prescription drug” except “when used for emergency resuscitation.” In an article from Medicine Net, FDA officer Melvin Szymanski stated that “it doesn’t matter” if the oxygen bar doesn’t make medical claims for their product: the person who turns on the flow of air “is actually dispensing the prescription drug oxygen to you.”

Basically, the College is planning on breaking federal drug regulations. Call me cynical, but I have a very difficult time believing that, come Saturday, the College is going to ask healthy students to see a prescription before they avail themselves of stress-reducing oxygen. This is a bit shocking to say the least. What other events will the College hold, giving out prescription drugs to help students with the pressure of finals? Might I suggest “Adderall: Collis Waaay After Dark?” But the real story isn’t that the College wants to disobey these regulations, but that they’re going to get away with it. As the Medicine Net article states, “Although oxygen bars that dispense oxygen without a prescription violate FDA regulations, the agency applies regulatory discretion” and allows individual states to decide whether to enforce this particular law. There are some risks associated with oxygen bars (oxygen is explosively flammable and can cause oxygen toxicity at high doses, and the aromatherapy agents used to “flavor” the oxygen can cause lung irritation), but the feds have decided that they have bigger fish to fry than phony “alternative medicine.” When compared with the College’s current policies concerning underage drinking, this is painfully ironic. For all the College’s protestations of helplessness in the face of drinking laws, it would seem that, in this case at least, the College is perfectly happy to flaunt federal law. Indeed, unlike simply turning a blind eye to underage alcohol consumption (a low-level violation in New Hampshire), the College is actively encouraging and abetting the violation of federal drug regulations. That this is taking place in the context of Collis After Dark, a program crafted to fight underage drinking, only heightens the irony. Perhaps it is unjust of me to attack the College over an event that hasn’t happened yet. That said, the conflation of a planned event with an actual event is something of a Parkhurst specialty, as the brothers of Beta Alpha Omega fraternity can vociferously attest. This incident demonstrated the unevenness and inconsistencies of College policy, but it also provides a useful model: just as the FDA has conserved its limited resources by ignoring oxygen bars, the College would be much better served by focusing on alcohol harm reduction and sexual assault prevention than by chasing down tipsy ’17s. Although I think no one would deny the risks inherent in alcohol use (underage or otherwise), I believe they pale in comparison to other challenges the College faces, which have been discussed at length on these pages recently. Perhaps it is finally time for the College to take some of its own medicine.


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