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Medical amnesty now in effect throughout state

By Giacomo Bologna, Managing Editor
Published June 10, 2012

After years of debate and struggle, Michigan House Bill 4393 went into full effect on June 1, creating a statewide medical amnesty policy that prevents people under the age of 21 from receiving Minor in Possession of alcohol citations if they seek medical attention.

Medical amnesty has been part of the buzz on campus recently, with the Central Student Government assembly passing two resolutions in support of medical amnesty earlier this year.

Diane Brown, spokeswoman for the University’s Department of Public Safety, said DPS is complying with the new law as with any change to state law.

“Any time laws change, which is not infrequently, we always have refreshers or updates,” Brown said.

She added that medical amnesty has not yet been invoked and DPS does not expect to invoke it often during the summer.

Brown said she thinks students have already been making conscientious decisions concerning drinking prior to the medical amnesty bill.

“We believe that our University students are already very smart, and so they would have already been calling to get help for a friend,” Brown said.

Mary Jo Desprez, administrator of the Alcohol and Other Drug Policy and Prevention Program, said there is not much institutional change that the University needs to make, but students will be informed of changes to the law.

“For the last few years, we (required) all incoming first-year students and incoming transfer students to take an online course before they get to campus and in that course … you can put a link to the law,” Desprez said.

An explanation of medical amnesty will also be included in the Alcohol and Other Drugs Policy, which gets distributed to members of faculty, staff and students every year.

“We certainly want students to know that every barrier has been removed for them to call if they’re concerned about a friend,” Desprez said. “I think that’s what everyone hopes that the law will do.”

Desprez added that the law could prevent students from getting the help they may need from the University.

“One unintended consequence is that we lose the ability to touch base with somebody who’s had an alcohol transport,” Desprez said. “That ticket usually generated … an educational response, which allowed us to connect with that student and just find out how alcohol has shown up in their life.”

LSA senior Sebastian Swae-Shampine, assistant executive director of the University’s chapter of Students for Sensible Drug Policy, said SSDP isn’t currently concerned with promoting knowledge of medical amnesty.

“We’re not really trying to press or advance the policy towards students yet. That’s the sort of process that will be happening moving into the next academic year,” Swae-Shampine said.

He added that SSDP has instead been meeting with members of the University’s administration to facilitate the implementation of the new law.

In particular, Swae-Shampine echoed the sentiments expressed by Desprez that there is a possibility that the University could lose its ability to contact students in risky, alcohol-related situations.

“There’s been a little bit of resistance towards DPS just giving students free passes, which is absolutely not the case of how this law is supposed to be implemented,” Swae-Shampine said.

He added that dialogue within University administration is necessary for the law to succeed.

“I think the biggest thing is … getting DPS and AOD — in one level or another —connected with each other, such that if a student presents him- or herself as a result of over-consumption of alcohol, they are having that important conversation with a counselor,” Swae-Shampine said.

In addition to protecting students who have dangerously consumed alcohol, the law also protects people under the age of 21 who are afraid of being sexually assaulted but have been drinking, Swae-Shampine noted.

“It protects minors who consume alcohol or are in possession of alcohol who feel like they’re under sexual assault or duress, which I think is pretty groundbreaking.” Swae-Shampine said.

After years of watching attempts to put a medical amnesty policy in place at the University and across the state but failing to do so, Swae-Shampine said he feels relieved.

“This is a fight that’s been happening for years,” Swae-Shampine said. “So it’s just kind of like a cathartic moment of release. Yes, finally this happens.”


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