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Tufts students push for policy that grants amnesty in alcohol emergencies

Posted by Your Town  February 27, 2013 05:50 PM

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Students at Tufts University are meeting with school officials Friday to propose that Tufts adopt a medical amnesty policy that would protect students who seek assistance for alcohol related medical emergency.

A number of local colleges and universities including Harvard College, Northeastern University, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, have a medical amnesty policy, to encourage students to seek medical help without fear of punishment.

Tufts already has in place a diversion policy, also known as a forgiveness policy, according to Kimberly Thurler, a spokeswoman for the university. The first alcohol offense requires that students meet with the alcohol and health education director to determine if there is a serious ongoing issue, such as addiction.

"There is no hard and fast rule, but when a call is placed for help, and emergency personnel respond, their focus is on helping those who need medical assistance," she said in a statement.

Thurler said that normally students will not face disciplinary action on the first offense. Repeat offenders may be subject to disciplinary measures.

Carolyn Flax, a member of the Tufts chapter of Students for Sensible Drug Policy, said she started a sub-committee this semester called the Medical Amnesty Policy At Tufts.

Flax said created an anonymous online survey about the alcohol policies at Tufts. She said that of the 567 students who took the survey, a substantial portion did not understand the policy.

One student wrote of a time when a friend was unconscious, but because she had already received a warning for drinking, none of her friends wanted her to be placed on probation.

"Instead of calling, we stayed up all night watching over her and making sure that she wasn't sleeping face up,'' the student wrote. "She eventually regained consciousness, but didn't stop throwing up well into the next morning.''

Another student wrote that, "one time my friend was so intoxicated he could not feel that a large portion of his skin was becoming detached from his body. He needed several stitches but we did not call TEMS because we knew that he would face horrendous consequences and would no longer speak to us."

A student also wrote about a friend who was so drunk he did not know where he was and could barely talk. But the student did not call for help.

"I told him "I'm going to 'TEMS' you if you don't respond. Do you hear me??" Then he barely moved and managed to choke out a vehement "NO"," the student wrote. "I felt that I should have done so anyways but was afraid of the consequences for our friendship when I called against his will. Seeing as students have been punished for calling in a situation of alcohol poisoning, I chose to listen to the only thing he was able to say that night and didn't call TEMS."

Flax said she thinks it's ridiculous Tufts does not have a Medical Amnesty Policy in place, and is confident that the rules will change.

"I honestly believe the alcohol policy at Tufts will be changed," she said. "It's just a matter of whether someone has to die first."

Katherine Landergan can be reached at klandergan@globe.com. For campus news updates, follow her on Twitter @klandergan.

Looking for more coverage of area colleges and universities? Go to our Your Campus pages.

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