It’s time to expand medical amnesty

Josh Shumate

As some of you are aware, the University currently offers victims, bystander and student organizations amnesty from Student Code of Conduct charges that are directly related to an alcohol offense if these individuals call authorities for medical assistance for an alcohol-related emergency.

The idea is that students should never be placed in a situation where they have to choose between avoiding a SNAM and calling the authorities in order to help a severely inebriated peer who is in need of medical attention. The current Medical Amnesty Policy even states, “The Medical Amnesty Policy is designed to foster safety first. It serves the educational function of the University by encouraging accountability and intervention among our community members, with a goal of reducing risk and harm.”

The national Students for Sensible Drug Policy organization gives each of the University’s drug and alcohol policies a grade, A-F, based on how much emphasis is put on student safety. Students and administrators should be proud to know that The University of Alabama has a respectable grade of B, showing that the administration has taken several necessary steps toward making campus as safe as possible; however, I believe the University can, and should, do more.

It is no secret that some of our students will, at some point, abuse drugs. In fact, according to a 2013 study done by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 22.3 percent of traditional full-time college students admitted to using illicit drugs within the last month. Assuming The University of Alabama is in line with national trends, approximately 8,000 of our students will use illegal drugs at least once every single month. While it is important to realize that many of these students will only use marijuana, which is relatively safe, it is also important to note that many of our students use hard drugs that have a high risk of dependency and overdose.

The current Medical Amnesty Policy states that the purpose of the policy is to “to increase the likelihood that community members will call for assistance when faced with an alcohol related emergency.” The administration should realize that the logic behind the current Medical Amnesty Policy can very appropriately be applied to drug overdoses. If we expanded the policy to include drug-related emergencies, we would increase the likelihood that members of the UA community will call for assistance for themselves and their peers. Because the current policy only applies to alcohol, it encourages students to ignore drug-related medical emergencies and increases the likelihood that one of our students will become the victim of a deadly and preventable drug overdose.

Last Thursday night, we kicked off our campaign by authoring a Student Government Association senate resolution that passed unanimously. The student senate spoke with one voice and voted to “encourage the Administration to expand its Medical Amnesty Policy to include drug-related instances.” We are thrilled to see so much enthusiasm and support from our student senate, and we believe this shows just how important this issue is to the student body. We look forward to sitting down with members of the administration and advocating for these policy changes.

The administration has taken numerous steps to increase campus safety and to reduce the risks for students when they inevitably make poor choices, but it is clear that they must do more. If the administration is serious about making student safety a top priority, it’s time to expand medical amnesty.

Josh Shumate is a junior majoring in political science. He is the vice president of Students for Sensible Drug Policy.