Erica Upshaw returns as ARM keynote speaker

Upshaw has been traveling around the country to speak about alcohol responsibility for six years.
Erica Upshaw speaks Monday night to the audience inside Jesse Auditorium about how to keep friendships alive and party smart. Austin lost her brother, Joey Upshaw, in 2000 after he drank gamma-hydroxybutyric acid at an Ohio State University fraternity house. 

Erica Upshaw spoke Monday in Jesse Auditorium for the second year in a row as the keynote speaker for Alcohol Responsibility Month.

The Wellness Resource Center decided to bring Upshaw back for another year because she is unbelievably good and her story is the message they want to give to students, Wellness Resource Center director Kim Dude said.

Upshaw's organization, Keep Friendship Alive, was conceived in 2006 when Upshaw gave her first speech about how to party smart and how to react to an emergency situation, according to the organization’s website.

In 2000, Erica’s brother and best friend, Joey, died after a night of heavy drinking and an overdose on the drug gamma-hydroxybutyric acid, more commonly known as the “date rape drug,” Upshaw said to the crowd. Upshaw, her brother and their group of friends frequently drank and experimented with drugs, she said.

Because his friends did not know the signs to look for, they only checked up on him at regular intervals, Upshaw said. Two hours after ingesting the drug, Her brother was taken away by an ambulance and pronounced dead 45 minutes later.

“Two weeks after, I found myself back on Ohio State’s campus,” Upshaw said. “In my mind, it was drugs that killed Joey.”

Upshaw said she continued her lifestyle of drinking. It wasn’t until a couple years later, when her boyfriend of the time approached her about her behavior, that she realized the dangers of drinking, she said.

“I’ve been traveling the country with this story for about six years,” Upshaw said. “I’m able to relate to colleges because this is my story — it happened in college.”

Rather than preaching alcohol abstinence, she said she hopes to teach students how to behave responsibly.

“We know that a lot of students are going to go out and party,” Upshaw said. “But I think that there’s a way for all of us to be a little bit safer, and there’s ways for us to look after our friends.”

Upshaw’s presentation covered alcohol consumption statistics, including the blood alcohol content that can cause death. A diagram showed for a 180-pound man, 21 shots in 4.5 hours would result in a 0.4 percent BAC, and for a 130-pound man it results in a 0.65 percent BAC. A 0.08 percent BAC is classified as legally drunk in the state of Missouri, according to the Missouri Department of Transportation's website.

Upshaw also spoke about how to approach someone with a problem. Some warning signs of an overdose or alcohol poisoning include irregular breathing, clammy skin and vomiting unconsciously, she said. If the person does not respond to prodding or shouting, Upshaw said the next step is to call 911.

“It’s unfortunately something we can all relate to,” Upshaw said. “It may be a friend, it may be someone sitting next to you in the audience.”

Upshaw’s presentation has a positive impact on the MU community, Dude said.

“I think the most important topic she covered was knowing what to look for, because I know people who wouldn’t call 911,” freshman Mackenzie Paull said.

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