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The Importance of a Thoughtful Medical Amnesty Policy

August 1, 2016

A well-considered medical amnesty policy forms an important part of a comprehensive campus plan for providing nimble emergency response in crisis situations, a plan of action for handling high-risk situations and promotion of interventions aimed at the prevention of devastating consequences from drug/alcohol use. Fear of college disciplinary action can prevent students from calling for help when they or a friend are in crisis due to drug and/or alcohol misuse. Limiting disciplinary sanctions for students who need to seek medical attention for themselves or a friend as a result of drug or alcohol misuse can reduce the perceived barriers to seeking help and make it easier for students to respond quickly and appropriately in a substance-induced medical emergency.

Medical amnesty policies are also intended to promote trust, collaboration and communication among mental health services, college administration, emergency services, college personnel and students – without the delay of second-guessing the need for urgent medical treatment due to fear of a disciplinary response from college authorities. As a result, students are more likely to initiate use of college emergency resources.

JED supports a medical amnesty policy that is well publicized among the student body and that clearly outlines the purpose of the policy, defines what is meant by medical amnesty and clarifies how medical amnesty works. It is important to inform students on how to report a serious situation that requires medical attention and make that information easily accessible and widely available. A good foundation for making medical amnesty effective is to educate the college community about the signs and symptoms of alcohol poisoning and drug overdose and provide guidelines on helping a friend in crisis due to overdose or poisoning.

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