The implementation of a medical amnesty program on campus is taking on a two-pronged approach as University students commence discussions with University administrators and state government leaders.
A medical amnesty program at the University would prevent underage students who call for aid in cases of over-consumption of alcohol from receiving Minor in Possession of Alcohol citations. Proponents of medical amnesty believe the program will lead to fewer alcohol-related deaths and injuries and more calls for medical attention.
State Rep. Jeff Irwin (D–Ann Arbor) said he has been in contact with several students about this issue and is supportive of establishing a program at the University.
“I think it’s going to save lives,” Irwin said. “(It’s) definitely going to make people more willing to come forward when they think that friend might be in trouble and might need some help.”
Though Irwin is not a sponsor, he said he supports House Bill 4393, legislation that would amend the Michigan Liquor Control Code of 1998 and implement a statewide medical amnesty program. Currently, the bill is on its third read and is waiting to be voted on by the state House.
“It looks like it’s going to make it out of the house,” Irwin said. “This idea has been around for a while. A number of other states (have medical amnesty) because it works.”
LSA junior, Aditya Sathi, vice speaker of Central Student Government’s Student Assembly, introduced a passing resolution in January supporting a medical amnesty program.
“(We’re) coming at it from a top-down and a bottom-up approach,” Sathi said.
Currently, more than 800 University students and faculty have signed https://www.msa.umich.edu/upetition/p/medicalamnestypolicy/ “> an online petition in favor of bringing medical amnesty to campus.
Sathi was one of the students who met with Irwin, and has also been meeting with University administrators, including Mary Jo Desprez, Alcohol and Other Drug Policy and Prevention administrator for University Health Service.
Desprez said she supports a program that encourages students to make safe decisions, but said she believes there’s a problem with not issuing MIPs, since the students would be exempt from important “wellness check” meetings required after a student receives a violation.
“I get worried that some of the people that we really want to be talking to and finding out how they’re doing and how are they managing alcohol use … we’re losing that avenue that we typically had to connect with them,” she said.
Regardless, Desprez said a change to state law is a more probable route for implementing medical amnesty than changing University policy since college-level policies cannot be in “disagreement with state law,” she said.
LSA junior Sebastian Swae-Shampine, assistant executive director of the University’s chapter of Students for Sensible Drug Policy, attended multiple CSG assembly meetings to speak in support of medical amnesty. Swae-Shampine said most opponents of medical amnesty believe it will foster an atmosphere of over-consumption without penalties, but he said that is not the case.
“This is a harm-reduction policy,” he said. “If it’s crafted well, that’s what it will do. It’s not meant to be condoning any sort of excessive or risk-taking behavior.”
He added that there are other punishments that come with overconsumption, regardless of whether or not a student receives an MIP.
“They’re still going to wake up in a hospital room, not a ticket in their right hand, but an IV in their left and … a bill for an ambulance ride, a bill for a hospital stay,” Swae-Shampine said. “It’s not a free pass, there are still sanctions.”
If medical amnesty is implemented at the University, both Sathi and Swae-Shampine said they would support expanding it to cover other drugs-related incidents.
“There are a lot of scary drugs out there,” Swae-Shampine said. “A lot of drugs that can do some serious harm in overdose or overconsumption situations — alcohol probably being the most present or prolific, especially on a college campus.”
Sathi said discussion about medical amnesty could be difficult because many people don’t want to talk about it.
“It’s a touchy subject and no one wants to talk about drugs and alcohol,” he said.
However, Swae-Shampine said promoting these conversations and increasing transparency is imperative to solving these issues.
“We’ve got to have that just upfront discussion and that candor which I find — at least in the political realm — lacking.”