UT students remain unaware of medical amnesty laws

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Photo Credit: Rena Li | Daily Texan Staff

When finance junior Chandler Simmons was a freshman in 2016, he and his roommates threw a party in their West Campus apartment. At the end of the night, he found a motionless girl on the bathroom floor.

“I tried to see if she’s breathing and it’s incredibly shallow — she’s barely breathing at all,” Simmons said. “We all are freaking out. This girl clearly has alcohol poisoning (and) we were all underage.”

Simmons said of all the freshmen in the apartment, no one knew that they could be granted amnesty when getting the girl medical help. Not all college students are aware of the amnesty policies in place in their state or at their school. Policies cannot be effective or helpful if the people who they are supposed to help do not know about their existence.

“There was dissent (by some people who attended the party) against calling the ambulance because everyone was freaking out (about) if we’re gonna be held liable because we supplied the alcohol (or if) we could all face charges,” Simmons said.

A survey by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) reported that over 90 percent of youth alcohol consumption comes from binge drinking. Since excessive alcohol consumption raises the likelihood of alcohol poisoning in minors, the state of Texas passed the 9-1-1 Lifeline Law in 2011.

According to The Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission (TABC), “the Texas 9-1-1 Lifeline Law prevents a person under 21 from being charged by the police for possessing or consuming alcohol if he/she takes a person to receive emergency treatment or calls 911 due to possible overdose of alcohol.”

Britney O’Malley, Assistant Director for Prevention for University Health Services (UHS) and the Counseling and Mental Health Center (CMHC), said AlcoholEdu also briefly addresses amnesty. AlcoholEdu is a mandatory online educational program that teaches students about the possible risks of alcohol consumption.

“We link to our policy in the resources in AlcoholEdu,” O’Malley said.

O’Malley said that most of the content on AlcoholEdu’s educational modules are created by the company EverFi and that UT cannot change most of the content of the program, which is used by over 500,000 college students nationwide. However, certain parts allow for minimal customization or the addition of hyperlinks, actions that UHS has taken to inform students about UT’s medical amnesty policies. These policies extend to any kind of drug overdose, not just alcohol poisoning.

However, Anand Pant, President Emeritus of Students for Sensible Drug Policy, argued that while UT is clearly making an effort to inform their students about amnesty policies, it is not sufficient, and raising awareness of medical amnesty laws must be further emphasized.

“They should send out email blasts to students a few times a year before big events like Round Up,” Pant said. “(I’ve heard) they are telling students during the freshman orientation, but I haven’t seen or heard of any promotion of amnesty laws other than that.”

Simmons agreed. Had they not called for medical attention for the girl in his apartment that night, the situation likely would have been devastating – and the delayed response was a consequence of the party-goers’ lack of knowledge about UT’s amnesty policies.

“If we did learn (about medical amnesty laws), it was not emphasized enough to the point where we all remembered it,” Simmons said. “The argument definitely delayed us calling, which could have been crucial. It could have been a life or death time frame.”