Underage drinking and illegal drug use are increasing problems on American college campuses. Since traditional students enroll in higher education before they are of legal-age to drink alcohol, many students find themselves caught in situations that result in accidental death that could be prevented by seeking medical help. While state laws and policies make it illegal for students under 21 years of age or any student to engage in drug use, these laws and policies do not reflect the reality among many college communities. As a result, students are increasingly fretful of the consequences by calling the authorities or seeking medical attention for themselves or their friends. While many students have lost their lives, this also poses a legal liability for institutions of higher education.
In 1998, an international network of students banded together to create the Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP). SSDP was formed in order to create ‘safe spaces’ on campuses through institutional policies and to have honest conversations about drugs and drug policy. Lately, they have been champions in advocating for Campus Good Samaritan Laws or a Good Samaritan Policy (GSP) for institutions all over the world. A GSP “is a life-saving measure designed to prevent students from hesitating to call for medical assistance in the event of a medical emergency related to alcohol or other drugs.” SSDP argues that institutions which lack a clear, concise, and comprehensive GSP risk an increase in the likelihood that life-threatening emergencies will become fatal since students are increasingly hesitant to contact authorities in fear of judicial and criminal prosecution.
There are four levels that amnesty can offer protection. The individual level offers protection and amnesty only to the individual requiring medical attention. The student assisting level offers amnesty to the student requiring medical attention and the student seeking help for the other student. Caller amnesty protects anyone who calls for medical attention on behalf of another student, and organizational amnesty provides the highest level of protection that these laws offer. This level of protection would protect an organization from sanctions if an incident occurred on their property or at their event.
States have also begun to enact amnesty laws protecting underage drinkers that seek medical help from criminal prosecution. Earlier this year, Illinois introduced legislation that would protect underage drinkers who call 911 for medical emergencies. Illinois has joined 32 other states granting amnesty state-wide and helping provide a safer environment for young adults. Opponents of such laws and policies cite a challenge to campus efforts to restrict alcohol abuse and a possibility of the ‘creation’ of emergency situations for students to escape prosecution as reasons these policies should be abolished. These laws and policies can have tremendous impact on campus culture and ensuring student health and safety.
While these laws and policies could save the lives of many young people, these initiatives allow for policy makers and institutions to be proactive to the realistic student and campus environment. Amnesty laws could have prevented thousands of accidental deaths across the country, including these in Indiana and New Jersey.