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U. Minnesota plans new drinking policy

The University of Minnesota-Duluth is planning a new policy to encourage students to report drinking-related medical emergencies by protecting them from legal ramifications.

Since this school year began, nine students and four visitors at the school have been drunk enough to require emergency hospital visits. All but one were younger than 21.

School officials believe many more such cases go unreported and untreated.

School officials want to encourage students to seek help in such situations. Under the amnesty plan, which is to take effect next fall, students who call on an authority figure if friends exhibit signs of alcohol poisoning would not face a legal punishment for drinking, and neither would the afflicted students.

The ill student could still be ordered to take a chemical dependency evaluation, and those who called might be subject to education or counseling sessions.

"The UMD student population is potentially just as vulnerable as institutions in Minnesota around the country where there have been serious tragedies," said Randy Hyman, vice chancellor for academic support and student life.

Every year, about 1,400 college students die from alcohol abuse-related incidents. Three UMD students died from such incidents in the past decade.

A survey last year showed that students’ top two concerns about calling for help were uncertainty about whether the situation warranted medical attention and the fear of discipline.

That "spoke volumes to us about the education that’s needed on campus," said Lauretta Perry, a chemical health educator and member of the group forming the policy.

About 90 colleges and universities in the country have some form of medical amnesty, although UMD would be the first in the University of Minnesota system. A similar policy was considered but rejected at the main Twin Cities campus.

The College of William & Mary in Williamsburg, Va., has had a medical amnesty policy for two years. It includes no legal punishment but requires students who call for help or get medical attention for alcohol-related incidents to receive education, meet with administration and have a record of the incident in their files.

Dave Gilbert, associate dean of students at the school, said the policy has been successful and said students are "incredibly aware of it." The first year, he said, 10 students received amnesty, and in the last school year, that number rose to 25.

UMD senior Thomas Deminico, who served on the task force crafting the policy, said he’s witnessed incidents where it would have been useful. As an underage freshman, he said, he was at a party where a student seemed to be suffering from alcohol poisoning but partygoers were too afraid of punishment to seek help.

"I know so many students who have been in that situation," he said. "We’ve needed this for a long time."

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