SG works expand alcohol amnesty policy to other substances

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Photo Credit: Caleb Kuntz | Daily Texan Staff

New policies negotiated by Student Government and University administration will grant legal amnesty to students who dial 911 for emergency medical assistance in cases relating to the ingestion of any illicit substances, according to SG Chief of Staff Taral Patel.

Earlier in the current legislative session, Student Government passed A.R. 5, a resolution supporting the expansion of the University’s existing alcohol amnesty program, which forgives students for drinking alcohol before the legal age of 21 if caught while procuring or assisting a student procure emergency medical services for alcohol-related crises. Instead of facing official charges for the underage consumption of alcohol, students are directed to Student Judicial Services for counseling under the amnesty policy, according to the University Health Services website.

Under the expanded program, students who call for medical assistance relating to the use of any illegal substance will also have the amnesty program available, Patel, a neurobiology and government
senior, said.

In a situation where a good Samaritan is confronting a potential drug overdose, Patel said his or her decision to call authorities will be easier.

“In this case, the friend would not hesitate to call UTPD because they would not get in trouble,” Patel said. “They would go through the same process that students who get alcohol amnesty go through, which includes rehabilitation and counseling services,”

A major motivation for pushing for this policy change has been reducing students’ hesitation to contact law enforcement in medically dangerous situations, said Stephanie Hamborsky, president of Students for Sensible Drug Policy and Plan II and biology senior.

“We felt that the exclusion to alcohol actually perpetuated stigma, because it kind of insinuated that it’s okay, that alcohol poisoning is a natural part of the college experience, but if cocaine or heroine or anything else is involved, then that’s not a part of the college experience, so we wanted to expand it to make people feel more comfortable about calling law enforcement when those situations exist,” Hamborsky, co-author of the resolution, said.

Patel said the students leading the implementation of the resolution have reached out to several University agencies and have met tremendous support.

“We had various meetings with the University of Texas Police Department, Dean of Students, Student Judicial Services, UT Legal and University Health Services, and every single partner was incredibly supportive and wants to make it happen,” Patel said.

Sherry Bell, UHS Consumer Education and Outreach Coordinator, said UHS would help promote the expanded and comprehensive amnesty program to promote student safety.

No other public universities in Texas have implemented similar good Samaritan policies, Patel said. UT-Austin’s efforts to implement such a policy add to the University’s legacy of leadership in student safety issues.

“There are schools in Texas that have already employed drug amnesty policies, but they are all private,” Patel said. “A good argument against that is that UT-Austin is usually in the leadership of safety procedures in public universities in a lot of aspects. If it’s something that we tackle, a lot of universities will, in turn, also start looking at it.”