August 28, 2011

Drug, Alcohol Amnesty Law Will Protect Students Off Campus

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New York State’s Good Samaritan Law, which provides amnesty for those seeking emergency services for underage drinking or drug charges, goes into effect on Sept. 18.

Cornell students seeking emergency services will be able to do so without fear of underage drinking or drug charges when the The Good Samaritan Law, passed by New York State in July, goes into effect on Sept. 18.

The new law will have little effect on campus because of Cornell’s Medical Amnesty Policy, which protects students on campus from action by the Judicial Administrator when they report an alcohol-related emergency. Students who are off campus are not subject to the Campus Code of Conduct and thus cannot face action by the Judicial Administrator.

Until the new law is implemented, Dave Honan, deputy police chief of the Cornell University Police Department, said that students protected by MAP can still face legal charges in city court. He noted, however, that “this was not a common occurrence,” given that local police wanted to support the intention of the MAP program.

Under the new law, though, students both on campus and off campus will now be safe from legal ramifications, Honan said.

Tim Marchell ’82, director of Mental Health Initiatives at Gannett, said that the law is of particular importance to students who are off campus.

“Since MAP only applies to the geographic areas where the Campus Code of Conduct applies, we are glad that there is now a law that provides for amnesty off campus,” Marchell said.

Honan said that the new law will not result in any changes to Cornell’s medical amnesty proceedings because it only relates to criminal proceedings.

“Cornell’s policy applies to the administration of the Campus Code of Conduct and diverts people from judicial action into an educational program for underage possession of alcohol and disorderly conduct charges,” Honan said. By contrast, he said, “the New York law applies to specific charges that would be referred to the local criminal courts.”

Although not directly involved in the drafting of the law, Assemblywoman Barbara Lifton (D-Ithaca) voted for the bill, which she said had wide support in both houses.

A 2006 study by Gannett found that students were reluctant to call for help in the event of an alcohol-related emergency if they could potentially face “judicial consequences.”

Between the implementation of MAP in 2002 and the publication of the study, there was a steady increase in alcohol-related 911 calls by Cornell students, the study found.

Assemblyman Richard Gottfried (D-Manhattan), chairman of the health committee and the law’s sponsor, said in a statement that the purpose of the law is to save lives by removing the disincentive to call for help.

“The number one reason people don’t call for emergency services or go to a hospital in the event of an overdose is fear of getting arrested,” he said.

Both CUPD and Gannett plan to educate students on the benefits of the new law, officially titled, “An act to amend the criminal procedure law, in relation to seeking or receiving health care for a drug or alcohol overdose.”

“We are … looking at how best to educate students about the new law, and we are trying to plan that educational roll-out carefully so that students are not confused about it,” Marchell said. “The last thing we want is for there to be misunderstanding that results in students hesitating to call for help.”

Original Author: Joseph Niczky