It happens all too often during college parties. Someone drinks or snorts or swallows far too much and enters the realm of being dangerously messed up. I’m not talking piss-your-pants-and-pass-out fucked up (though you should keep watch over those people, too). I’m talking convulsing, eyes-rolling-back-in-the-head fucked up. Seeing that the partygoer needs more attention than a few sips of water and a pat on the back while they’re hunched over the toilet, you reach for your phone and begin to dial. 9…1… suddenly, your friend stops you. He reminds you that if the ambulance comes, the cops are sure to follow, and you better believe they’ll slap handcuffs on the owners of a house full of alcohol, underage drinkers, and drugs. Your degree, your career, and your entire life now hang in the balance – right alongside the kid seizing on the bathroom floor.
It is a horrendous conundrum that no one should be forced to contend with, yet it’s one that universities throw its students into across the nation. Medical Amnesty Laws (also known as Good Samaritan Laws) – laws that grant clemency to both the person ODing and the people who call for help — are a simple solution to the problem. Still, hundreds of stubborn, out-of-touch universities refuse to adopt the policy, and many more only recognize it in certain situations. It is a direct threat to the lives of college kids, and it’s time universities stop pretending their students don’t party and address the issue.
Thousands of young people die from alcohol or other substance-related abuse every year. In fact, it’s one of the leading causes of death among the demographic. But a 2015 survey of 400 universities found that only 230 have some form of medical amnesty on campus – not including off-campus housing – and most of those only take alcohol into account.
Given the effectiveness medical amnesty laws have had in saving lives, colleges have no excuse not to adopt them. According to MedicalAmnesty.org, a study found that over a one-year period, the number of alcohol-related EMS calls increased by 700 percent. Think of how many people in life-threatening situations would have been left untreated over the course of that year had the laws not been implemented. Think of how many of those people would have died.
All but 15 states have made some form of medical amnesty the law of the land, but the extent of most of these laws is tragically limited.
Some grant individual amnesty, which protects only the person ODing if that person calls for help themselves (pretty useless – how often does a person ODing have the capacity to call for help?).
Some grant victim amnesty, which protects the individual ODing if someone else calls for help (the people who call for help are still in jeopardy).
Then there’s caller amnesty, which protects the individual ODing as well as the Good Samaritan who makes the call.
Lastly, there’s organizational amnesty, which protects the organization involved if a person ODs. This is the rarest and most controversial form of medical amnesty, but as members of Greek organizations, it’s the one that applies to you all the most.
Universities need to grant all tiers of amnesty – individual, victim, caller, and organizational – to all of its students. Don’t bother waiting for the painfully slow state legislative process to grant it, either. Just go ahead and grant it yourselves. You have the power to do that. Sure, the umbrella of university amnesty can only extend so far for individual students (if non-campus PD gets involved and the state has no amnesty laws, they’re fucked) but it would still be a step in the right direction, and universities can at least prevent fraternities or sororities from being shut down for doing the right thing and calling for help.
There are only a couple of rebuttals against medical amnesty laws. The first is the belief that they will encourage reckless drinking and drug use. But consider this: The same study that found a 700 percent increase in alcohol-related EMS calls also found that drinking levels remained the same, meaning the policy did not encourage reckless consumption.
The second primary rebuttal is the belief that college students should know better than to put themselves in harm’s way to begin with. But I assure these people that students at every university are going to get too fucked up at one point, no matter how many online alcohol classes they are forced to take. It’s what college kids do. Go ahead and blame our party culture and our rap music. Just don’t ignore the problem. Ignoring it is beyond ignorant – with lives on the line, it’s downright criminal.
I urge all of you to visit this spreadsheet compiled by the Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP), an organization at the forefront of the fight for amnesty laws on college campuses. The spreadsheet shows every university with amnesty laws as of August 2015, as well as the extent of clemency granted. If your university is not on the list, make a push to get it on there. Start an SSDP chapter at your campus. Fuck, start a protest if you have to. Seeing picket signs for something that matters would be a nice change of pace..
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