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Newsletter > January 2008 > "MEDICAL AMNESTY – GOOD SAMARITAN PROGRAMS"
MEDICAL AMNESTY – GOOD SAMARITAN PROGRAMS
Tim Burke, Manley Burke, firstname.lastname@example.org
This past spring, Beth Speidel, a 19-year-old sophomore at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, was killed at 3:00 a.m. on a Saturday morning, when she was hit by a train while walking across the railroad tracks. It was subsequently determined that she had a blood alcohol content of nearly three times the legal limit.
Five other female students at Miami University were charged with crimes related to furnishing alcohol to a minor. One of those agreed to a plea deal. The charges against three of the others were subsequently suppressed by the trial court judge because, according to the court, while the police detective who interviewed the students “took no action to overpower or coerce the defendants, however, the court does find that there was an element of trickery involved.” Prosecutors have appealed that decision which remains pending. The charges against the fifth individual, which were the only ones to relate to alcohol being provided to a minor in a bar, remain pending. This tragic case serves to emphasize the fact that criminal liability can attach to even those individuals who as a matter of “friendship” provide alcohol to an under-aged student.
In contrast, The Chronicle of Higher Education reported in its December 21, 2007, issue that more colleges are offering “amnesty” for drinking violations when intoxicated students seek medical help for themselves or their friends.
Emory University has such a medical amnesty, or Good Samaritan, program. Students who have been identified as seeking medical help resulting from the over-consumption of alcohol are required to meet with a representative of the college administration, after which they must meet at least twice with a substance abuse counselor and attend two 4-hour risk-reduction classes. More than 100 Emory students have been granted medical amnesty since the program began in the 2005-2006 academic year.
The theory behind medical amnesty seems sound, encouraging students who need medical help to get it rather than hiding their alcohol violation. At least one study, reported in The International Journal of Drug Policy, has suggested that the Good Samaritan policy at Cornell University resulted in only a minor increase in students seeking medical treatment. The same study found that a much greater reason for avoiding medical treatment was not knowing when someone was drunk enough to need medical care.
The Chronicle offered pros and cons for Good Samaritan programs from Robert J. Chapman, a Drexel University assistant professor. It included positives such as being consistent with a university’s concern for the well-being of its students and encouraging students to assume a truly supportive role as they come to the aid of their peers. Cons included conflict with existing zero tolerance policies, and the potential for the program to be viewed as a “get out of jail free card.”
At the same time, while medical amnesty and Good Samaritan programs are in operation on other campuses, like Ohio State University, local police are, sometimes with the assistance of federal funding, cracking down on underage drinking. According to a recent Associated Press article by Andrew Welsh-Huggins, seven Central Ohio police departments have received a $35,000 grant from the United States Department of Justice to fund the STOP Campus Project. The grant provides overtime pay on days of Ohio State football games to patrol the area around campus looking for students who appear to be underage and are drinking. Even a student sitting on the front porch of a fraternity house who appears to be underage is subject to being approached by local police and asked for identification. If they are underage, they are taken to jail.
During the 2007 football season, this program resulted in some 211 arrests of underage drinkers. According to the AP article, student reaction to the program prompted Richard Hollingsworth, the Vice President of Student Affairs at Ohio State to send an email to Buckeye students warning of a “humiliating 8-hour or longer ordeal” if jailed as a part of this crackdown. The article quotes him as saying: “There is a perception that this program is targeting people peacefully sitting on their porches having a beer and not going after people who are seriously intoxicated or those selling to underage minors.”
Underage consumption of alcohol in Ohio is a misdemeanor of the first degree, a relatively serious charge equivalent to simple assault. Conviction can lead to a jail sentence of up to six months and a fine of up to $1,000, though usually it does not. While the Associated Press article suggests that other experts on alcohol abuse, such as National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism and the National Social Norms Institute, believe the approach to the underage consumption of alcohol requires more than a police crackdown, what is clear is that police take underage drinking very seriously. Unfortunately, tragedies like what happened to Beth Speidel provide too frequent justification for the seriousness of that police response.
The abuse of alcohol remains a real problem for higher education as a whole, and the Greek community in particular. Compliance with the law, appropriate risk management, and caring for one another are all necessary steps to avoiding alcohol-related tragedies.