As St. Patrick’s Day approaches, a group of students has organized a series of events to promote awareness of a new state law aimed at encouraging underage people to seek medical attention when they’re in danger of alcohol poisoning.
The policy outlined in the law, known as medical amnesty, ensures that people under the age of 21 will not receive a Minor in Possession citation if they seek medical attention for themselves or a friend who has had too much to drink.
“The message of medical amnesty has to be delivered lots of times in lots of different ways, some formal and some informal,” Mary Jo Desprez, who works on alcohol and drug prevention for the University Health Service, said.
The policy has been on the books since summer 2012, but Business senior Todd Siegal, one of the organizers for the week of events, said not enough students are aware of the policy.
“The goal … is not about encouraging underage drinking, but making sure that students know their rights and know that if they’re in trouble and they need help,” he said.
Members of the Central Student Government will be on the Diag Tuesday and members of LSA Student Government will be on the Diag Thursday educating students about medical amnesty, Siegal said.
Other organizations, including the Student Athlete Advisory Council, the Residence Halls Association, University Health Services and Hillel, will be on the Diag promoting medical amnesty with free giveaways and music.
The whole week culminates with CSG’s second St. Patrick’s Day Tailgate on the Diag with free food and music to promote safety on a day known for heavy drinking among students. CSG has allotted $15,000 to the event.
“It’s been really a pretty great and exciting process to have the administration on board, to have UHS on board, to have these student orgs on board,” Siegal said. “People just really need to know to make the safe decision, the safe choice.”
Desprez said medical amnesty has been included in the online course about alcohol consumption for incoming freshmen. In the fall, the policy was added to the Statement of Student Rights and Responsibilities.
Desprez stressed that invoking medical amnesty should be a last resort for students. Students should not make alcohol “the focus of the event,” and students should not consume alcohol when they don’t know what’s in it, she said.
She added that she was glad to see student leaders taking charge on the issue.
“This work can’t be done by one office or one administrator on campus, it has to be done as a community so when student leaders are willing to put their voice out there,” she said.
Siegal said in addition to events on the Diag, Consider Magazine will be discussing the policy of medical amnesty in this week’s issue, WOLV-TV will be discussing it on Monday, Wednesday and Friday and a page on the CSG website will be devoted to explaining medical amnesty.
Each partner organization is “contributing something to the week as well,” Siegal said, adding that RHA, for instance, will be promoting the policy in the dorms, the Interfraternity Council is ensuring that sober monitors will be aware of the policy and multiple organizations will be including information about the policy in their newsletters. A video promoting medical amnesty awareness has also been released to coincide with the week.
Siegal became involved in promoting medical amnesty awareness when, one night in September, he came back to his apartment complex and found an intoxicated, non-responsive student lying on the ground. Siegal said he started knocking on doors in the complex and soon a crowd of 15 to 20 people formed.
A roommate of the passed-out student arrived shortly after and said his friend had already received an MIP last year and was still underage.
“He basically just dragged his friend into his apartment and he refused to take him to the hospital and lock(ed) the door,” Siegal said. “The rest of us didn’t really know what to do because now we’re in this position where it’s like none of us really know how bad of shape he’s in.”
Siegal said it was then he decided something had to be done — but at that time, he was not aware of the medical amnesty law.
“It really bothered me to be in that position, to be in that predicament where you don’t know what to do,” he said.
The next day Siegal called LSA senior Caroline Canning, LSA student government president, and she explained to him that medical amnesty was already in place. Since then, he’s been working with multiple students from multiple groups in “an ad hoc committee housed under CSG” to promote medical amnesty awareness.