U will not implement UMD’s new alcohol practice

The Duluth campus will implement a plan that seeks to encourage students to seek help in alcohol emergencies.

Despite the University of Minnesota, Duluth âÄôs recent announcement to implement a new practice for penalties when people call for help during an alcohol emergency, the Twin Cities campus has no plans to follow suit. Under UMDâÄôs new practice, students who call 911 for themselves or others in times of extreme intoxication will be given special consideration as to whether a citation will be issued. The idea of the practice is to not penalize people who call for help, but police will still have the discretion to decide whether to issue a citation on a case-by-case basis. While the practice has often been confused in many recent news stories as a policy that would provide âÄúamnestyâÄù to individuals who call for help, Academic Support and Student Life Vice Chancellor Randy Hyman said this is not the case. Hyman said the decision to implement the practice came as a result of a campus survey, which was then examined by UMDâÄôs Chemical Health Advisory Committee. âÄúItâÄôs really important to talk about the educational responsibility as a University,âÄù Hyman said. âÄúWe must care, express that care, and educate on the dangers of extreme alcohol abuse.âÄù While the prospect of not facing legal implications for calling 911 may seem enticing for students, Director of Boynton Health Services Dr. Edward Ehlinger said in a survey of students conducted on the Twins Cities campus, students indicated they would call the police regardless. The survey was conducted during the 2004-2005 school year when the University Alcohol Tobacco and Other Drug Committee was considering a similar practice to the one in Duluth. Ehlinger said the practice was also vetoed as the committee felt police, as the first responders, would be put into a bind as to whether to uphold the law. While Ehlinger understands the purpose of the practice, he questioned why people breaking alcohol laws should be given special treatment over those who were found not abiding other laws. Deputy Chief Chuck Miner said such practices would allow students to abuse a program that could potentially absolve them from legal implications. Ehlinger said he believes no one is âÄúout to getâÄù people who call for help, but that sometimes there is a need to punish those who break the law. According to a 2007 report from Boynton Health Services, only 54.2 percent of all University students said they would be âÄúvery likelyâÄù to call 911 in an alcohol-related emergency. More than a third of 18- to 20-year-olds engage in binge drinking âÄî consuming five or more alcoholic beverages in a row âÄî while 45.7 percent of 21 to 24-year-olds reported binge drinking, according to the report. Although University police records for minor consumption citations have fallen in recent years, 129 people have already been cited for drinking underage on the University campus since the beginning of school in September. Of those cited, 35 were transported to a hospital for treatment, four were booked for attempting to flee police, and three were sent to detox. These numbers are noticeably lower than during a previous school year where by March 8, 2007 210 citations were given, 48 people were sent to the hospital and 12 needed to be placed in detox. Those cited by the police for underage consumption had blood-alcohol content levels ranging from .02 to the highest recorded being a .30, meaning they had little comprehension and were a few drinks away from .35 âÄî the level of surgical anesthesia, according to a report from Columbia University. While citations are relatively inexpensive, those who need to go to the hospital could face massive bills upon release. According to Hennepin County, a citation for minor consumption costs $178 while a citation for loitering with an open bottle costs $125. But a trip to the emergency room can cost between $400 and $2,000 dollars, according to Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota. Should the students need more hospital care, a two-day stint costs an average of $22,000, including the approximately $1,200 fee for the ambulance and paramedics, Christine Hill, spokeswoman for Hennepin County Medical Center, said. After a student has accumulated this debt, there comes the matter of paying for it. For this, many students would look to their insurance, which could prove problematic. While University insurance will cover alcohol related injuries, Dave Golden , Boynton director of marketing and public health, warned that it is not unusual for other plans to exclude such injuries. Even though the University is not looking to follow in UMDâÄôs footsteps, Ehlinger said he knows heavy drinking is a problem that extends beyond the University campus. âÄúNobody has found the magic bullet to deal with high-risk drinking,âÄù Ehlinger said. âÄúWe need to continue to work as a community to try to find some answers to this.âÄù