‘A step in the right direction’: WU expands medical amnesty policy to include drugs

| Staff Reporter

Washington University expanded its medical amnesty and active bystander protocol to now include the possession or use of drugs in addition to alcohol last week.

Emergency Support Team member Gaby Gonzalez and her collegue rush to an intoxication call in Liggett Hall to help stabilize the intoxicated student in September, 2014.

“When a student seeks aid for an individual experiencing an alcohol or other drug-related emergency by contacting emergency services, such as the Emergency Support Team (EST), the patient and the individual(s) reporting the emergency will not be subject to disciplinary action in the form of University student conduct sanctions for the presence, possession or use of alcohol or other drugs,” an email to students read.

Amanda Harmel, assistant director of alcohol and other drug programming, who regularly meets with students following alcohol or drug-related emergencies, said that she has advocated for this policy change for about five years.

“Our hope is that this update will increase student’s likelihood to seek help in emergency situations involving drugs and/or alcohol,” Harmel said. “The purpose of expanding the coverage of medical amnesty is to prevent student harm and to better ensure the safety of students.”

Associate Director of Residential Life Molly Pierson, who was on the initial committee for developing the University’s medical amnesty policy, said that students utilized the medical amnesty policy 32 times in the fall 2019 semester. She said that the expanded policy was important to keep students safe.

“In any crisis situation, the last thing you want is people assessing ‘Okay, was it just alcohol or were drugs included?’ and instead for students to know that that policy applies regardless,” Pierson said.

According to Kirk Dougher, associate vice chancellor for student support and wellness, the key driver of the policy change was “to bring it into alignment with our peer institutions.”

Dougher anticipated that the expanded policy will impact student life in small ways.

“The frequency of situations where this policy will be needed is not high,” Dougher said. “However, when it is, it will be quite important that those that are considering calling to help the medical condition of a fellow student do not see conduct as a reason not to make that call.”

Student Union Speaker of the Senate junior Gaby Smith said that the expanded policy “will encourage students to contact the resources that they need when they are in dangerous situations.”

“We hope that the policy will reduce hospitalizations due to students holding off on seeking help,” Smith said. “This will really emphasize the harm-reduction approach that the University seems to be taking on issues of alcohol and drug use in medical emergencies…We believe that it is important to reduce barriers to accessing resources on campus, and we feel that this is a step in the right direction.”

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