Local view: Amnesty law for minors prompted by dangers of college drinkingThousands of college students will arrive in Duluth over the next few weeks.
By: Lauretta Perry and Dr. David Worley, for the News Tribune
Thousands of college students will arrive in Duluth over the next few weeks. Class schedules, roommates and numerous new experiences await them. For some, those new experiences will include alcohol. While different institutions have their own policies and practices governing the issue, one topic colleges share is the need to educate students about the signs and severity of alcohol overdose.
Alcohol overdose — or alcohol poisoning, as it is also called — occurs when the level of alcohol in the bloodstream affects areas of the brain that control basic life-support functions, including heart rate and breathing. Symptoms of alcohol poisoning include irregular breathing, confusion, vomiting, the loss of consciousness and cold, clammy skin.
In 2006, the University of Minnesota Duluth’s Student Health Advisory Committee conducted a survey to facilitate a better understanding of student response to the issue of alcohol overconsumption. Thirty percent of respondents indicated they had been in a situation where a friend needed medical help due to alcohol overconsumption. Of that group, 65 percent did not call for help. The No. 1 reason cited was uncertainty about whether the situation was medically serious. That was followed by fear of getting themselves or their friend in trouble.
Upon obtaining this information, UMD increased its efforts to educate students about the severity of alcohol overconsumption. Magnets listing the signs of alcohol overdose were placed on all campus housing refrigerators. Posters with quick response codes, or QR codes compatible with smart phones, were placed in residence halls, campus hallways and local drinking establishments. Classroom presentations and freshman orientation also included components devoted to the subject.
When resurveyed in 2008, uncertainty about the severity of the incident dropped to the sixth reason listed. Fear of judicial or punitive consequences remained among the top five barriers, however.
Placing the needs of others over one’s self is a developmental milestone that not all teens are able to, or willing to, make, particularly under the influence of a substance like alcohol.
To address alcohol-related medical emergencies, some states have implemented medical-amnesty laws, granting limited legal immunity to intoxicated minors who seek medical attention for themselves or another individual. This practice stems from Good Samaritan policies that encourage citizens to assist others during an emergency without fear of liability. In May, Minnesota became the 14th state to legislate the practice. At the core of the legislation was a concern for the safety and health of incapacitated individuals.
In July, representatives from Duluth police, the City Attorney’s office, UMD campus police, the College of St. Scholastica and UMD met to discuss this important law, each agency’s role in its implementation, and how the agencies could collaborate to educate college students and other minors, as well as our community as a whole, about the legislation. Discussions also extended to St. Luke’s and Essentia hospitals for additional educational outreach opportunities.
However, we cannot do this work alone. It will require the participation of the most influential people in the lives of young adults, including parents, neighbors, clergy and other trusted community members. As they say, it takes a village. Working together we can educate and encourage the young adults of our community to make well-informed and responsible decisions regarding alcohol and to care for each other. Frank discussions about serving sizes, metabolism, symptoms of alcohol overdose and expectations for behavior, while difficult, may someday contribute to saving someone’s life.
We encourage everyone to discuss this important issue with the young adults in their lives.
Lauretta Perry is a University of Minnesota Duluth chemical health educator. Dr. David Worley is director of UMD Health Services.