TAMPA — Under a new school policy, the University of South Florida will forego disciplinary action and academic sanctions against students who summon help in the case of an alcohol or drug emergency.
The policy is intended to ensure that students know they have amnesty in case they’re reluctant to report a serious or life-threatening situation because they may be drunk, high or holding drugs themselves. USF joins a number of institutions including the University of Tampa, Eckerd College, the University of Central Florida and the University of Florida in offering the protection.
“Their first instinct should be to do something to help versus fearing that something might happen to them,” said Michael Freeman, USF’s dean of students. “It’s just a smart way to go. You can find yourself in close calls often, and boy, it’s just better to have students thinking, ‘Let me help this person.’ ”
The policy was drafted last month and is currently in effect. Students were notified in a schoolwide email, and posters are going up around the system’s three campuses.
In the email to students, Freeman wrote: “ ‘Medical Amnesty’ basically means that USF will support your responsible action of calling for emergency medical assistance and, despite the unlawfulness of the situation (like underage drinking or illegal drug use), will not take disciplinary actions against you or the person for whom you sought medical attention.”
The USF policy piggybacks on a state statute known as the “Good Samaritan law,” which allows people to get help for someone suffering a drug overdose without risk of facing prosecution themselves.
Such laws and policies save lives, said Cindy Grant of the Hillsborough County Anti-Drug Alliance.
“Too often, kids will be drinking or they will be using illegal drugs, taking prescription drugs, and they won’t call for help thinking that they, too, will get in trouble,” she said. “Too many cases, we have seen it time and time again, where a youth has died because someone didn’t take the time to call for help.”
Grant has felt the consequences first-hand. Her son Dan was 19 when he overdosed on prescription drugs at a party.
“If someone had called 911 and got him to a hospital, he would most likely be alive today,” she said.
There was no single incident that prompted the policy at USF, said Stacey Pearson-Wharton, assistant vice president for health and wellness. She said the university has no reports of any student dying from alcohol or substance overdose on campus or at a university-related event or function.
This year, three individuals have been transported to hospitals for drug or alcohol use; there was one such incident last school year.
There were 258 students found responsible for misuse of alcohol and 95 found responsible for misuse or possession of illegal drugs in the 2011-12 school year, the most recent numbers available.
A national college health assessment also showed that USF has a safer record than the U.S. average when it comes to binge drinking.
Fifty-five percent of USF students reported they had not consumed five or more drinks in one sitting over the last two weeks in the spring 2011 study, versus the national average of 40 percent. Just 4.5 percent of USF students said they had consumed five or more drinks in one sitting three to five times in the past two weeks, while the national average was 10 percent.
“We are fortunate that we don’t have the same type of binge drinking problems,” said Pearson-Wharton. “But we also want to make our campus as safe and well as possible, and in that process do what we can to help students help a friend.”