Letter to the Editor: An Administrative Perspective on Medical Amnesty

In response to the recent State Times article on medical amnesty, I want to offer another viewpoint. In doing so, I want to emphasize that the discussion is still open and I believe there can be some agreement on this issue.

Whether participating in highrisk drinking, condoning it or living with or near high-risk drinkers, the consequences are often negative and potentially life changing—disruption to your living environment, vandalism, property damage, unsafe sex, assault, sexual assault, prosecution for criminal behavior, injury and even death. For a fuller picture of the problem see http://
www.collegedrinkingprevention.gov/StatsSummaries/snapshot.aspx
.

I don’t believe Oneonta is different from other SUNY or private colleges with respect to high-risk drinking. But, in my estimation and despite our efforts at education, the problem is not getting better. Since the beginning of this academic year, 31 people (26 students and five guests) have been transported from campus to the hospital for alcohol poisoning. This number already exceeds the number of transports for all of last year. A person is transported to the hospital because they have been assessed to be too drunk to be left alone without risk of injury (e.g., falling down, choking on vomit, etc.) or death by alcohol poisoning.

For every transport, the response involved RAs or night hosts, a residence hall director, OSES, UPD, the Oneonta Fire Department, and a Student Development duty officer. With one exception, the calls, sirens and speeding emergency vehicles occurred in the middle of the night. There is no doubt that an alcohol transport is disruptive for the individual who is transported as well as for the campus community.

New York’s 911 Good Samaritan Law seeks to “encourage people to call 911 when witnessing or experiencing an alcohol or other drug overdose by providing a limited shield from charge and prosecution for possession of narcotics, marijuana, and for minors, alcohol” (911 Good Samaritan: Explaining New York’s Fatal Overdose Prevention Law, Drug Policy Alliance, New York, NY). The overdose victim is not protected unless she/he is the caller. At Oneonta, bystanders who call for help in overdose situations are treated with limited amnesty (though not mentioned in current policy). Some students may be aware of the Red Watchband training that specifically targets bystander intervention in these types of situations.

The college supports the 911 Good Samaritan Law and is willing to consider similar language for the Code of Student Conduct. However, in discussions with staff directly involved in response to these incidents, there is consensus that immediate followup with both assessment and judicial action are essential for self assessment and planning to avoid future incidents. Sometimes, judicial consequences are the only reason students moderate their drinking after they experience alcohol
overdose.

I am certainly willing to discuss a medical amnesty policy similar to NYS law but not one that suggests that there are no consequences for a student in serious danger (e.g., unconscious, unable to walk or answer basic questions, unable to call for assistance). I do not believe that is the intent of the 911 Good Samaritan Law nor is it a responsible position for the college to take.

While we discuss this issue of medical amnesty, I would ask students to consider just how much disruption that is caused by the high-risk drinking of peers they are willing to tolerate, and whether the college’s intervention in these cases is of value to their quality of life. A smaller group of students needs to ask themselves why they are willing to risk the negative consequences, including serious injury or death, of their high-risk drinking.

Dr. Steven Perry
Vice President for Student Development

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