A policy in place at West Virginia University since last August clears the way for students to reach out to help classmates who are in distress because of drug or alcohol consumption, even if they themselves might fear disciplinary reprisals.
The policy, detailed in Section 16 of the Main Campus Student Conduct Code, encourages students to seek help from the University community and first responders if they find themselves in a situation where their classmates have overindulged in alcohol consumption.
“The goal of this policy is to allow students to feel safe to make responsible decisions and reach out for help,” said Corey Farris, dean of students and associate vice president of Student Life. “We want students to focus on getting their friends and classmates the medical help they need when they’ve had too much to drink without worrying about consequences from law enforcement or WVU.”
Farris said students who call for help when they find themselves or a friend in danger of overdosing from substances like alcohol and drugs won’t be subjected to a Student Conduct hearing. They also won’t be cited for underage consumption by law enforcement.
“We know that students are less likely to call for help if they’ve done something that they know is against the law or WVU policy,” said Stacy Vander Velde, director of Student Conduct. “We don’t want them to think about that we want them to call for help and stay with the affected person until help arrives on the scene.”
The practice is becoming a common one, as 31 states and counting have now enacted medical amnesty (also commonly referred to as ‘good Samaritan’ policies) to ensure young adults on college campuses don’t have to make a decision between potentially saving a life and facing consequences from their university and local law enforcement.
The West Virginia Legislature passed an Alcohol and Drug Overdose Prevention and Clemency Act in 2015 to establish amnesty for all state citizens. The act allows local law enforcement agencies to take the same approach to alcohol and drug-related citations when people who are in trouble medically reach out for help.
WVU Chief of Police Bob Roberts said that as part of the policy, students who call for help on behalf of their peers are required to stay with person in need of medical attention and cooperate with law enforcement and medical responders.
“Our first and foremost concern is the treatment and well-being of students in need of medical attention,” Roberts said. “By all means, if a student is in danger medically or sees someone who is in danger medically, we want them to call us we aren’t going to arrest them.”
Roberts said the amnesty policy is reserved for situations where medical attention is needed. Signs that someone may be in medical danger as a product of alcohol poisoning include:
Possible head injury or confusion,
Inability to arouse the person with loud shouting or vigorous shaking,
Slow or irregular breathing,
Weak pulse, or very rapid or very slow pulse,
Cold, clammy, pale or bluish skin,
Vomiting while passed out and not awakening after vomiting.
WVU is emphasizing the importance of the medical amnesty policy with all students, but especially with students who may socialize in large groups through student and Greek organizations and have the opportunity to look out for one another.
“We hope that our students will not only keep themselves safe, but their peers, too,” said Roy Baker, associate dean of Greek Life. “We hope this policy will save lives.”
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