NORML, SSDP work to craft Good Samaritan Policy

Three Missouri schools have such policies for emergencies.
Spencer Pearson / Graphic Designer

Two campus groups are working on a campus policy to shield students from prosecution when they are treated for drug overdose or alcohol poisoning.

The MU chapters of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws and Students for Sensible Drug Policy are working on a Good Samaritan Policy for implementation at MU. Such policies allow students to seek treatment in overdose situations or call for help for others, without facing prosecution for the drugs in their bodies.

NORML National Executive Director Allen St. Pierre said his group is trying to persuade schools across the country to adopt the policies so students are not afraid of legal consequences when deciding whether to call for help when someone is in medical danger.

"If someone is in danger, it just makes eminent sense that the path of communication should allow all those who are communicating to do so without fear of more punishment," St. Pierre said.

MU NORML Vice President Kellie Smith said SSDP was the group mainly working on getting the MU policy passed, but her group was supporting the effort. She said the groups were working to inform students what the policy is, whom it protects and what it does.

"When we accept the fact that people use drugs and that there are some problems associated with that drug use, the only logical step is to try and minimize the potential harms associated with that drug use," Smith said. "The Good Samaritan Policy will make the health and well-being of students the priority as opposed to the criminal prosecution of them."

According to the SSDP Web site, no schools in the UM system have Good Samaritan policies in place. Three schools in the state do: Missouri State University, Truman State University and Missouri Southern State University.

MU Wellness Resource Center Director Kim Dude said in an e-mail though MU does not have an official Good Samaritan Policy, the practice by the MU Police Department and the Columbia Police Department is not to arrest students for calling 911 to report a case of alcohol poisoning.

Dude said the situation could be different if illegal drugs were involved since possession of any such drugs is against the law.

"None of us can guarantee that a student would not get in trouble because it depends on the situation," Dude said.

Dude said most MU students know to call for help in an emergency situation. She cited the 2008 MU Wellness Survey, in which 95.6 percent of students said they would call 911 for a student with alcohol poisoning or take the student to the emergency room themselves.

"Our students know the importance of doing the right thing and they do," she said.

SSDP Midwest outreach coordinator Amber Langston said such a policy would be helpful at MU, especially given its large number of fraternities and sororities.

"A lot of our chapters have found it to be well received because it saves lives and the goal of all our drug policies should be to save lives," Langston said.

Jim Tupolski, director of evaluation, policy and ethics at the Missouri Institute of Mental Health, said in addition to student groups, law enforcement agencies would also have to be involved in forming such a policy to make sure it protects students who are in emergency situations and not those seeking to avoid all prosecution.

"I think a reasonable law that doesn't protect drug dealers and looks at the problem from a public health stand point and a law enforcement standpoint is necessary," Tupolski said. "You need both perspectives to grind out a policy that makes sense."

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