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Continued: Minnesota bill: Amnesty for drinking, seeking help

  • Article by: JENNA ROSS , Star Tribune
  • Last update: April 8, 2013 - 9:10 PM

Amnesty in Winona

At Winona State University, “as with pretty much every other campus in the country, alcohol is continually a problem,” said Karen Johnson, dean of students.

In April 2012, after a year of discussion, the university adopted a medical amnesty policy meant to “encourage students to take responsibility ... and call emergency medical personnel for help when there is reason to believe that someone needs medical assistance due to the consumption of alcohol or drugs,” the rules read.

“Honestly, I started out with mixed feelings,” Johnson said. “I certainly don’t want to condone underage drinking. Often, it’s the sanctions that are a deterrent for next time.

“On the other hand, the bottom line is the students’ health and safety.”

The new policy requires a student who gets a drinking ticket to request a meeting within five days to avoid sanctions from the university. So far, no student has requested such a meeting, she said.

Between April 2012 and the end of March 2013, Winona State students got 162 tickets/citations from Winona police. But Johnson cautioned that it is unclear how many, if any, would have been eligible for medical amnesty.

Johnson believes a state law would create more consistency for students considering their options. Right now, she noted, she “can’t do anything about the drinking ticket they get from the police.”

Would it make a difference?

A study of Cornell University’s medical amnesty protocol found that it made a difference: The number of alcohol-related emergency calls grew 22 percent from 2002 to 2004. The share of students who didn’t call for help and cited fear of “getting the person in trouble” as the reason dropped 61 percent.

Still, that was not the main reason students declined to call. The most common response was: “I wasn’t sure the person was sick enough.”

Student security monitor Tony Maxam favors the amnesty law because of what he’s seen on the night shift. From 11 p.m. to 7 a.m., once every week or two, Maxam patrols a University of Minnesota residence hall filled with his fellow freshmen. He has witnessed a few ugly situations in which it’s clear someone needs help, yet friends haven’t asked for it.

When you’re really drunk, “your safety is in the hands of the people you’re with,” Maxam said. “And if the people you’re with are unsure about calling ...

“Even uncertainty wastes time.”

 

Jenna Ross • 612-673-7168

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