What is Medical Amnesty?

By: Caroline Slay

After a long night out, it is common-thought practice to take an intoxicated friend to his or her room and leave them to “sleep off” the effects of the alcohol they consumed. This is common and typically convenient, but is this the right thing to do? In the United States, at least 1,400 college student deaths are linked to alcohol each year, some resulting from alcohol overuse (alcohol poisoning). Before leaving a friend or stranger who has been drinking excessively, first assess him or her for signs of alcohol poisoning. This includes: increased confusion, stupor, inability to be awakened, vomiting, slow or irregular breathing (generally less than 12 breaths per minute), hypothermia (or low body temperature), and a bluish skin color. It is important to monitor the person for these signs even after they have returned home, because alcohol can continue to affect the body for a period of time after a person has stopped drinking. If he or she displays these signs and symptoms, it is imperative that he or she is not left alone, and it may be necessary to call for help.

But what if you have also been drinking that night? Maybe you are underage, you have had too much to drink, or you do not want anything negative on your record. You also do not want to get your friend in trouble. Is it worth the risk? Should you get your friend the help they need?

Fortunately, the University of Alabama, and many other universities, have created a Medical Amnesty Policy. This policy is intended to promote the safety of students and allow them to call for medical assistance in the case of an alcohol-related incident. This protects the person in need of medical care and the student or organization who calls for help. While it does not grant amnesty for civil, criminal, or federal violations, it does allow students to receive amnesty from violations to the University Student Code of Conduct. Because of this policy, students can feel comfortable getting the help that their friends need. This is intended, not to condone reckless behavior, but to encourage students toward accountability and intervention in order to protect themselves and their friends. Therefore, it is imperative that students call for help when their friends are experiencing alcohol-related illness.  Death from alcohol-overuse is senseless and preventable. Through the Medical Amnesty Policy, students can take action to save lives, rather than be dissuaded by potential punishment.

If you have questions about the UA Medical Amnesty Policy, you can read it here: dos.ua.edu.

If you suspect that someone is experiencing alcohol poisoning, seek medical care immediately.