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Drugs and Alcohol

Should I Call 911? The Truth Behind Medical Amnesty on College Campuses

By August 23, 2017August 15th, 2023No Comments


There will come a time in almost every college student’s life where he or she will be in a position in which he or she is with a person who clearly needs medical attention as a result from drinking.

While it may seem obvious that the solution is to call 911 immediately, this is not the route that many students decide to take. The first thought people in this position often have is “will I get in trouble if the police or ambulance shows up and I am also drinking underage?” or “if I call 911 will this person be mad at me because they are now in trouble with the University for underage drinking?”

Many universities throughout the country have acknowledged these concerns and taken them into account when making decisions surrounding student conduct policies.  One important thing to note is that many schools have student run medical response groups that provide emergency medical care to other students. When students are in a vulnerable situation surrounding the presence of alcohol, having the opportunity to work with peers rather than authority figures allows the students to feel more comfortable. They can rest assured knowing that the people taking care of their friends are not there to get the drunk student in trouble, but rather to focus on getting the medical care needed.

In addition to providing student-run medical services, schools often have policies that protect both the person in need of medical attention, as well as the person who calls the medical services, from university disciplinary action.

Should I be afraid that I would be in trouble with my university if I call 911 for a drunk friend?

No! Policies known as “Good Samaritan Policies” are in place in hundreds of colleges and universities throughout the country. These policies are aimed at encouraging students like you to obtain help when needed.  At the George Washington University, for example, if you contact the student-run Emergency Medical Response Group (EMeRG) to obtain medical assistance for an intoxicated student, you will not face formal non-academic disciplinary action, provided you have not committed a violation of the “Code of Student Conduct” other than by violating the policies of possession or use of alcohol under 21 or intoxication on or off University premises.

How likely is it that the person I called 911 on will face disciplinary sanctions?

I’m happy you asked- at most universities, your friend is actually protected by policies too. “Medical Amnesty” policies exist with a similar purpose as Good Samaritan policies. They are in place to allow students to seek professional medical help in an alcohol or drug-related emergency without fear of disciplinary consequences. For instance, at Georgetown University, a student is encouraged to contact emergency services, such as the Georgetown Emergency Response Medical Service (GERMS) or the Georgetown University Police Department (GUPD), either on or off-campus. The patient and the individual(s) reporting the emergency will not be subject to punishment for violating the Code of Student Conduct’s Alcohol Policy, or sections 1 or 2 of their Drug Policy. Similar guidelines also apply at hundreds of universities throughout the country. Rather than risking the life of someone in need of  medical attention, students should feel at ease knowing that neither themselves nor the person getting medical attention will face disciplinary consequences for seeking help.

Is there anything else I should know about Medical Amnesty?

Although granted Amnesty in medical emergencies, students are often still required to meet with professional staff for an educational conversation about the student’s behavior and overall wellness. Some universities and colleges also require alcohol and drug related trainings following a reported incident. Additionally, a small Amnesty fee may be imposed in certain situations. But, hey- all of this is a small price to pay for both safety and no disciplinary actions.


Shan Wu

Author Shan Wu

Shan’s professional and personal background gives him a unique understanding of academic institutions and the criminal justice system. A former federal prosecutor in Washington, D.C., he is at home in D.C. Courts and very familiar with all of the Washington, D.C. law enforcement agencies, especially the Metropolitan Police Department. His parents were university professors so he grew up in a university environment. He understands the mindset of academic institutions. As a prosecutor, he supervised in the misdemeanor crime section. This is the section of the Washington, D.C. prosecutor’s office that handles most college student cases. His understanding of charging decisions and how judges view these cases is invaluable to his student clients and their families. Shan served as a federal prosecutor in the United States Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia for over ten years. During his tenure there, now Attorney General Eric H. Holder, Jr. appointed him to supervisory positions in the Misdemeanor Trial Section and also in a police corruption task force. His outstanding legal work in the government was recognized through numerous Special Achievement Awards from the Justice Department as well as awards conveyed by law enforcement agencies and community groups. From 1999-2000, Shan served as Counsel to Attorney General Janet Reno, advising her on criminal and civil investigations, E-Gov, E-Commerce (electronic signatures, internet gambling, internet telephony, privacy & public access issues in electronic court filings), congressional oversight, and legislative review. His responsibilities included serving as liaison to the FBI, DEA, Criminal Division, Executive Office of United States Attorneys, National Institute of Justice, and White House Counsel’s Office. Shan serves on the D.C. Bar Association’s Hearing Committee of the Board on Professional Responsibility and is a past president of the Asian Pacific American Bar Association for the Greater Washington, D.C. area. He is a 1988 graduate of Georgetown University Law Center, where he graduated Order of the Barristers, edited two law reviews, and was Co-Director of the Moot Court Program. He holds a B.A. in English Literature from Vassar College as well as a Master’s Degree in Creative Writing from Sarah Lawrence College. Following law school, he clerked for the late Hon. Jerry Buchmeyer, U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas, and the late Eugene Wright, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. He is admitted to practice law in the District of Columbia and Connecticut.

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