Those who puke shouldn’t have to juke medical care

“I honestly don’t think I’d call security unless I was, like, sure you were dying.” It may have only been two-seconds of eavesdropping as I passed a group of first-year girls while hiking up to the apartments, but this sentiment is hardly a lone occurrence. Over the past three years, I’ve written multiple pieces about my distaste of the College’s hard alcohol ban, a policy that has not only failed to stop students from drinking hard alcohol, but has also pushed the consumption of such drinks behind closed doors, away from help.

Alcohol is, for better or for worse, a mainstay of the Colby culture. However, the same could be said of most colleges worldwide. Likewise, many believe that Colby students have become more responsible with alcohol in recent years. Though I don’t have empirical evidence, representatives of both the administration and the Student Government Association have told me that, over the past few years, rates of alcohol-related hospitalizations have gone down steadily. This trend may be the result of numerous factors, including the hard alcohol ban, increased education, and the giving away of Papa John’s on Loudness nights. I believe that all of these features have helped in some ways, but, based on my own experience, I believe there’s a much more dangerous reason numbers have shrunk.

I hazily remember a night during my freshmen year that illustrates my concern. After a combination of shots, drinking games, and a small dinner, I found myself in a state of utter black out. I don’t know how I got back to my room or found the trash bin that would be my lone companion for the next four hours, but I do remember wondering one thing: should I call security?

If I had walked in to find someone in my state, kneeling in front of a trash bin, verging on unconsciousness, unable to move, I probably would have called. I don’t think it would have been a question. But, as someone who had had a number of “bad nights” while living in Australia, I decided not to. Why would I choose ambulance fees, court summons, and alcohol probation over a bad night and a worse hangover? I wasn’t exactly thinking clearly.

Turns out, I was incredibly lucky. Using a blood alcohol content (BAC) calculator the next day, I typed in the number of drinks I had (that I remember) over the course of five hours, and came up with a 0.24 BAC. While that might not look like a lot, another two drinks could have killed me.

Though I haven’t had a night like that in years, I still worry for my fellow peers. I worry that one of our students might make the same decision I did, and not wake up in the morning. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, 1,825 college students die every year from unintentional, alcohol-related injuries. While the wording implies a chunk of these are due to drunkdriving accidents, alcohol poisoning undeniably takes many young lives every year. While we can hope that a friend or roommate of an intoxicated student will call for help, a Cornell study showed that while 19 percent of students believe that they should’ve reported their intoxicated friend, only four percent did so.

I believe that the Administration must do more to protect the lives of their students from this threat. While I’ve come to terms with the reality that my many pleas are unlikely to rid us of the hard alcohol ban, I believe that there are other ways to incentivize students to call for help despite the potential repercussions. Of course, what I’m suggesting is to minimize those costs.

Medical amnesty is made up of laws or policies that protect those seeking medical attention as a result of illegal actions from liability. Over the past fifteen years, 21 states have signed Medical Amnesty Acts into law, along with countless colleges and universities. The reason these policies are so popular among higher learning institutions is due to the theory that, if there are fewer repercussions, students will be more likely to act on their own or a friend’s behalf in a dangerous situation. I believe that, in a place where drinking is so common, Colby should implement a medical amnesty policy. Though underage students would still be liable under Maine state laws—since Maine has not signed a Medical Amnesty Act—I believe that medical amnesty would encourage students to report potentially dangerous situations.

Under such an agreement, Colby students who have reported themselves or have been reported by their friends would be exempt from probation. However, before you say that such a policy would remove all disincentives for binge drinking, there will still be consequences. Following the examples set by other schools, I believe a just solution would be to require students who utilize medical amnesty to undergo a psycho-educational interview at Counseling Services. From there, the content of the interview will be kept in the student’s internal file, allowing the school to track repeat offenders. However, these notations will not show up on any future record. At the discretion of the Dean of Students and the Health Center, serial binge drinkers may be recommended to regular counseling or alcohol education. In this way, the College would help students with their alcohol problems, rather than disciplining them and making them more fearful of getting the help they need.

Medical amnesty is a benefit for both the Administration and the student body. It would give students reasons to practice responsible drinking practices while also giving them incentives to call for help when they need it. Though I disagree with several school policies regarding alcohol, I believe that, fundamentally, we want the same thing: a safe drinking culture at Colby.

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