Good Samaritan Policy could save lives

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Brian Massie

Travis Handy

Imagine it’s 3 a.m. and you’re drunk. You’re on your way home from a party and find someone passed out in an alley. No one else is around, and you’re not 21 yet. What would you do? If you call 911 you could save this person’s life and wind up with multiple strikes from the university.

While many police officers wouldn’t intervene in such circumstances, many students fear repercussions. Depending on the circumstances, students could get expelled for potentially saving the life of someone they didn’t even know. Why? Radford University does not have a “Good Samaritan Policy.”

Good Samaritan policies encourage students to seek medical attention for someone else suffering an alcohol or other drug overdose. The policies provide protection from campus sanctions for violating AOD policies to all of the following people:  the individual in distress, a bystander who seeks medical assistance for an intoxicated student, a campus organization or group that calls for help for a member or guest.

Many universities including Harvard, UVA and William & Mary have GSPs in place. Thanks to a federal medical privacy act passed in 1996, neither a would-be samaritan nor the person in need of treatment would gain strikes if they take the person to the hospital, assuming there is not an incident (crash, DUI, etc.) on the way. Calling 911 is likely the fastest and safest way for this person to get medical attention.

The International Journal of Drug Policy is a worldwide organization based at the University of London. In 2006 it stated “Each episode in which someone does not call for help is a potentially fatal situation. Therefore, it is desirable to reduce as many barriers to calling for help as possible, regardless of the prevalence of such behavior.”

That behavior is prevalent at RU, with binge drinking rates more than 20 percent higher than the national average, according to Alcohol EDU.

A study done by IJDP at Cornell University found that before implementation of the policy, 25 percent of students who considered calling 911 for someone who was severely intoxicated did not do so. The second most common reason for not calling was concern about getting in trouble.

Four years after implementing the policy, students reported being 61 percent more likely to call for help. According to students, its implementation “demonstrated that the university genuinely is concerned about the health and safety of its students” and “is a source of good will in the ongoing and vital dialogue between students and university officials in the search for ways to reduce alcohol-related harm and, ultimately, save lives.”

According to Lee Carter, coordinator of RU’s Substance Abuse and Violence Education Support Services, RU has never had a GSP in place. While it has been discussed off and on for several years, there are no current plans to adopt such a policy.

“I think the university does have a responsibility to the health and safety of students,” Carter said.

Assistant Dean of Students David Horton said, “Suspension or dismissal may be necessary to help students grow and move beyond behaviors that endanger themselves and others.” Horton thinks that a Good Samaritan Policy is worth exploring, but the process would require the involvement of staff, SGA and other organizations.

Quadfest, RU’s 4-day drinking fest, is one month away.  With it will come thousands of visitors to the city and the strong possibility that people will need medical attention due to excessive consumption.
Last semester, RU lost one of its own, Sam Mason, to excessive consumption. It is unknown whether his life might have been saved had there been a GSP in place, but if the IJDP study is any indication, those around him that night might have been 61% more likely to call for help.

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