When Bob Brown came to Eastern in the fall of 2016 as the new director of student conduct and community standards, he pored through all of EKU’s procedures and processes regarding drugs and alcohol. He noticed the student handbook was missing something other state universities were widely adopting: a medical amnesty statement.
As of last April, the university has one. Covering regulations 5, 6 and 7 of the student handbook under general regulations concerning behavior, the statement provides that students won’t be charged for calling police in the case of an overdose or overconsumption.
"You won't be punished for helping a friend. If someone needs medical attention because of drugs or alcohol, they and you are protected by medical amnesty,” a business card for student conduct reads.
Brown got the ball rolling on a statement by talking to SGA, Housing and Residence Life, the EKU Counseling Center, Dean of Students office and local police departments.
“The idea is to get students to call for help instead of avoiding the idea of ‘I’m helping my friend by not getting them in trouble,’ when they could actually be endangering them because they need the medical attention,” Brown said.
Kentucky’s first medical amnesty, or “good samaritan” law (KRS 244.992) was implemented in 2013 as part of an initiative with 16 other states. A similar policy (KRS 218A.133) was passed through in 2015 to include overdoses from controlled substances.
Tanya Meeks knows the laws’ potential to save lives. As the founder and president of Stop Heroin Lexington, she keeps in close contact with local emergency rooms and health departments who say the policy has increased the amount of 911 calls for overdoses and prevented instances of “dumping.”
“...what they were doing was they were just leaving the friend or dropping the friend off at emergency room parking lots or on the side of the road, which ultimately led to their death,” Meeks said.
Meeks also lost her son to a heroin overdose at a college party in 2014, when he was a 19-year-old freshman at Bluegrass Community and Technical College.
She says drugs like heroin are making their way onto college campuses more regularly than most would imagine. Heroin is no longer just an issue affecting people in poverty, she said.
“These are white, middle-class kids who are using heroin,” Meeks said.
Brown said he hasn’t noticed heroin being an issue at EKU, but the drug is nonetheless covered by medical amnesty. Rather, alcohol remains a consistent problem. Especially for students who don’t know the size of a standard “drink.”
“Most people don’t realize how much an ounce, an ounce and a half really is, and so I’d say they over pour and then the flavor or cut from the alcohol is masked by a juice or a soda or something,” Brown said. “And if they drink that relatively rapidly, it can really put them in a position where they need help quickly.”
As for claims that amnesty policies encourage binge drinking, Brown says that’s not true.
“I think that’s a very short-sighted criticism that’s easy to apply. It could be easily seen that ‘Oh, they’re just letting people drink.’ No, that’s not the case,” Brown said.
Brown’s comments are backed by a 2018 study conducted at Ohio State University. Assessing first-year students in the years before and after implementing a medical amnesty policy, researchers found the policy had no effect on drinking or overall consumption. The only increase found was in requests for assistance from campus authorities and residence hall staff.
Even if a student is granted amnesty, student conduct still follows up with them, Brown said. They ask the student what choices they made, and what got them into a potentially dangerous situation. Repeated incidents may result in an elevated response from the university. Student conduct may also contact the student’s parents.
Although the statement was released last April, student conduct has spent much of the fall semester trying to raise awareness. Brown and others presented the statement in front of first-year students at Maximize Your Buzz, passed out waters and business cards at the first tailgate of the football season and participated in Rocksoberfest this past year.
As part of a Sept. 18 WEKU story, 15 students were polled on whether or not they knew of the policy. Only one student said they knew, a statistic Brown said was “frustrating.”
When reporting an emergency, Brown said students should operate on the university’s protocol of “call, stay and cooperate.”
“Call for help, so that your friend or yourself can get the attention they need, stay so that nothing happens to them, that you can protect your friend, and cooperate with EMTs so that they know exactly what the student has been consuming so that they can have the best response,” Brown said.
For more details on medical amnesty at EKU, go to studentconduct.eku.edu