September 9, 2012

Cornell Medical Amnesty Policy Expanded to Include Drug Emergencies

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The University has revised its medical amnesty protocol to protect students from action by the Judicial Administrator if they call 911 to report a drug overdose while on campus. The previous policy, which was implemented in 2002, only granted amnesty to students who called concerning alcohol-related emergencies.

The Good Samaritan Protocol, which went into effect on July 1, brings Cornell’s policy in line with New York State’s Good Samaritan Law, which went into effect last September, according to Deborah Lewis, alcohol projects coordinator at Gannett Health Services. The state law, passed in 2011, protects anyone calling to report a drug or alcohol-related emergency from underage drinking charges and other legal ramifications.

“One of our changes is just this name change to bring it in parallel with the New York State law,” Lewis said. “The other piece around this is it’s an expansion of what’s covered under amnesty.”

Prior to the implementation of Cornell’s new policy in July, students on campus could have still faced punishment from the judicial administrator, but students off campus were out of the J.A.’s reach. Students both on and off campus already received amnesty when calling about an alcohol-related emergency and will continue to do so under Cornell’s new policy.

“The purpose of the Good Samaritan Law is to encouragepeople, no matter who they are or where they are in New York State, to call for help for both alcohol and drug emergencies without [worrying] about legal consequences,” said Sharon Dittman, associate director for community relations for Gannett. “It was important to make Cornell’s policy, which relates to the campus code of conduct and applies on campus, parallel to the new law.”

Cornell’s revised medical amnesty protocol may also eliminate the confusion that students experienced in the past, according to Lewis. She said that several students told Gannett officials they were confused by the previous policy because whether or not it protected students depended on whether they were on or off campus when they made the emergency call and the type of emergency they were calling to report.

Interfraternity Council President Chris Sanders ’13 added that the previous policy “wasn’t very well written.”

“There were a lot of questions of what medical amnesty actually entailed [and] what were the limitations of the policy,” Sanders said.

The purpose of the policy change is to reduce this confusion, Dittman said.

“The average person who’s calling for help for someone else won’t necessarily know or be able to say ‘alcohol only, no drugs on board,’ or ‘drugs only, no alcohol on board,’” she said. “What we all want is, when someone is in trouble, that there be no hesitation to get help and no delay due to worrying whether it’s safe to call for this but not that.”

Sanders agreed that the revision was necessary to ensure that students are not afraid to call for emergency services when they need help.

“If it’s removing a barrier that might be prohibiting a person from calling, it’s absolutely necessary,” he said. “I think the most important thing is emphasizing the importance of calling and that you’re doing the right thing by calling.”

While the new medical amnesty policy went into place this summer, Cornell had been considering changing its medical amnesty policy since before the state law was passed, according to Lewis.

“Having the New York State law had pushed us to take action, but we really started the review in part because we had just celebrated our tenth anniversary of having amnesty, and we wanted to take a look at ‘Is this protocol still serving the way we need it to be serving? Is it clear?’” she said, adding that “we were certainly hearing from students that it was not clear.”

The new policy change means that not only does Cornell’s medical amnesty policy now match the state’s law, but also that it matches the policies of other local colleges, including Ithaca College and Tompkins-Cortland Community College, Lewis said.

“Because there’s now a state law — a Good Samaritan Law — and the local college campuses … also have medical amnesty or Good Samaritan protocols, we’re able to provide a consistent message around the community of ‘call 911 in an emergency,’” she said. “Everyone in the community, including high school students, is getting the same message.”

Original Author: Joseph Niczky