November 10, 2006

C.U.’s EMS Sees Increase in Alcohol-Related Incidents

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It was a quiet Sunday morning in the girls’ bathroom on the fifth floor of Mary Donlon. Everything seemed normal, except for a curious remnant: an oxygen mask accidentally left by Emergency Medical Services (EMS) during their alcohol-related transport the night before.

The scene from last Saturday night, the alcohol poisoning and EMS call, has been occurring more frequently on North Campus this year. According to the residence hall director (RHD) of the High Rises, Suzanne Horning, there have been over 30 alcohol-related EMS transports to medical centers from the freshmen dorms this semester to date, compared to just 12 during the entire fall 2005 semester.

“We started noticing an increase. As hall directors, it’s something we’ve been talking about,” Horning said. “We are all very aware of the use of alcohol on campus and continue to look at ways to provide alternatives to drinking.”

In light of this increase, there have been numerous alcohol-education efforts on North Campus. Brief Alcohol and Other Drug Screening and Intervention for College Students, Gannett’s alcohol-awareness program, set up tables for a day at both Appel North Star Dining and Robert Purcell Market Place Eatery, where students could learn accurate information about drink sizes and blood alcohol content. Kristyn Bochniak, the RHD of Donlon, organized an event in her dorm’s lobby where students could play root beer pong and wear “beer goggles” brought by the Cornell University Police Department to illustrate the effects of intoxication. In some dorms, flyers with information about alcohol use have been placed behind stall doors in girls’ bathrooms and above toilets in boys’ bathrooms, necessitating reading.

This is in addition to the late-night non-alcoholic events that RHDs have been holding on North Campus in recent years.

“There’s a significant number of people who are interested in things other than going out,” Horning said, “but nobody wants to be sitting in their room by themselves on Saturday night.”

Some of these events are held at the community centers, such as the International Food Festival, which attracted over 1,000 students. Other events are held on a smaller scale, in the dorms. On Saturday nights, Horning sometimes shows a movie or gives residents crafts and coloring books.

Although the RHDs’ fall 2005 numbers are somewhat uncertain due to a turnover in staff, statistics provided by Cornell University EMS reflect this year’s upswing in transports. For the entire fall 2005 semester, there were 54 calls and 24 transports for the whole campus. The number of calls is more than the number of transports because often EMS will be called and either the student will refuse to be transported or EMS decides transport is unnecessary.

This semester, which is the first time they have recorded alcohol-involvement and location, there have already been 71 calls and 43 transports. Sixty-three of those calls were alcohol-related and 43 were to North Campus. Chris Tems ’07, the director of CUEMS, said that three-quarters were probably transports.

“There have definitely been more alcohol-related calls this calendar year,” Tems said.

He also noted a general increase in alcohol-related transports during the four years he has been working for CUEMS. Last spring, they handled a total of 88 calls and 64 transports, compared to just 56 calls and 41 transports the spring before, an increase of over 50 percent.

Horning noted that despite the increase in transports, she has seen a decrease in drinking inside the dorms. Nearly all cases of transport involved students who came back from a night partying in Collegetown or from fraternity houses.

But Horning does not believe that a lax policy concerning drinking in the dorms would help the situation: “It’s against the law. You could disturb other people, you could get sick in the building, I don’t think it’s a place we want to get into.”

Another factor in the steady increase in transports may be an increased awareness of the Medical Amnesty Program (MAP). Implemented in 2002, the MAP gives immunity from the Judicial Administrator to anyone who requests to be transported by EMS. They have to attend BASICS, a one-on-one consultation and subsequent survey about alcohol usage, but the $35 fee for this program is waived.

“I do think medical amnesty is a very good program,” said Tems, “We’re here and it’s better to err on the side and be checked out.”

Despite the weekly sound of sirens in the dorms, Horning said, “I don’t think as many people drink here as people think do.”

“People are either sober or they drink themselves into oblivion, there’s very little middle ground,” Tems said.

But when asked what North Campus is like at 1 a.m. on Sunday morning, nearly all students alluded to the presence of heavy drinking.

“There’s a lot of people coming and going that are drunk. There’s a lot of people vomiting and passing out,” said Cailey Colantuno ’10.

“It’s diverse, with people doing a smorgasbord of things. You have your group that goes out and parties and your group that just walks around North Campus and admires its beauty,” said residential advisor Zaheer Tajani ’09.

Amy Shyr ’10 agreed, “It’s very lively. It’s fun to watch all the drunk people.”