Rutgers student assembly adopts report advocating for medical amnesty policy
Students should not be afraid of calling for medical assistance if their friends are in distress from alcohol poisoning or drug overdoses, said Matt Panconi, president of the Rutgers University Student Assembly.
On Thursday night, the assembly adopted a medical amnesty investigative report written by several members of the body.
The report advocates for Rutgers administrators to change their rules on how underage students are punished when they call the police or other authorities when drinking or otherwise consuming drugs at the University.
“Medical amnesty is a law, it prevents people from getting in trouble if there’s underage drinking going on and if something goes wrong and they call the police,” said Panconi, a Rutgers Business School senior. “They’re protected from trouble with the law and I think it’s important to have it at Rutgers.”
The University’s guidelines do not explicitly state that students will be punished if they are caught drinking before they turn 21, including instances when they call authorities themselves. But the University's guidelines do allow for punishments to occur, according to the report.
Students are usually not punished by the Office of Student Conduct, said Viktor Krapivin, a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore and co-author of the report. Despite this, studies based on other institutions with a medical amnesty program have shown that students are more likely to call for help when they know they cannot be punished.
“It is much more reassuring to people knowing they will be protected,” he said. “That’s why we want it on paper.”
Having a formal policy ensuring students would not be punished for calling for help is “marketable,” said Anish Patel, chair of the Medical Amnesty Task Force at RUSA. The policy tells the student body that they have protections provided they follow the instructions outlined in the final policy.
Patel, a School of Arts and Sciences junior, said as a volunteer emergency medical technician, he has seen many victims of alcohol poisoning and performed CPR on patients. He does not want to see that happen again.
“A study done by Cornell University is referenced, where they found that while underage drinking rates stayed the same, the (number) of calls for emergency services increased and the number of alcohol-transports decreased,” he said. “So more people were willing to call and less people were passed out on the sidewalks for police to find.”
The report does not encourage blindly forgiving students. Students who call for help may be admitted to an “educational intervention” program that will require them to work with University officials to show reformation, according to the report.
They may be required to attend a sessions with the Alcohol and Drugs Assistance Program or simply work with a counselor, according to the report. Those who do so successfully will not have any marks made on their permanent record, while those who fail may see further action.
In addition, students who do not follow the terms outlined in the final policy may still be subject to disciplinary action, including students who fail to call for help or cooperate with authorities.
The amnesty would also extend to students reporting instances of sexual violence, protecting the person who requests assistance from disciplinary action.
The committee that wrote the report was formed after an undergraduate student died from alcohol poisoning during the Fall 2015 semester, Panconi said.
“When a student dies from that, I don’t know if (those around her) were afraid to call the authorities or not, but we have to make sure students aren’t afraid, that they have those protections in place,” he said.
The next step is to continue working with the Rutgers administration, Patel said. The University should conduct a study similar to Cornell’s, to determine the number of incidents before and after the policy is instated.
“We don’t want someone that is afraid of calling the police to get in trouble just for helping out,” Panconi said. “What we’re trying to do is protect those students who would call the police in an event like that. They should call the police.”
Nikhilesh De is a School of Engineering junior. He is the news editor of The Daily Targum. Follow him on Twitter @nikhileshde for more.