Medical amnesty used little

Police haven’t seen a significant rise in calls for care since the law took effect.

Julia Marshall

Though the state’s medical amnesty law has offered legal protections to underage drinkers for months, University of Minnesota students aren’t using it widely.

The law gives legal immunity to minors seeking medical care for themselves or one another, but University police said they haven’t seen those calls increase since the policy took effect Aug. 1. The Minnesota Student Association, which advocated for the law, is now pushing to raise student awareness of medical amnesty.

University police Deputy Chief Chuck Miner estimated that about 20 to 25 students have claimed medical amnesty this fall. Most of those calls have come from residence hall workers, he said.

“There’s really no increase in the number of calls from residence hall staff members regarding intoxicated people.” Miner said. “But what’s different now is that those calls are turning into medical amnesty cases.”

MSA President Mike Schmit said the association sent an email to undergraduate students earlier this month to promote the new law.

Matt Forstie, MSA’s Minnesota Student Legislative Coalition chairman, led the push for medical amnesty at the Capitol last spring. Forstie said the law needs continued promotion to be successful.

“Laws on their own aren’t effective,” he said. “It is implementation and awareness that make laws like this effective. We’ve seen it as our duty from day one to promote that.”

Psychology freshman Rachel Keszycki said she had just found out about the law — and not from MSA.

“I hadn’t really heard of medical amnesty until recently — until I overheard some people talking about it,” she said.

University police Chief Greg Hestness said it’s difficult to accurately track how many underage drinkers claim medical amnesty because police don’t usually file a report in those cases. He said medical amnesty calls come from a variety of situations.

“It’s not just in residence halls — it’s at the stadium, it’s in the streets, and calls can come in as other things as well,” he said. “It might be called in as a party, and you end up with somebody who needs help.”

Though the law protects University students from receiving a ticket for minor alcohol consumption or possession, they could still be liable for violating the University’s Student Conduct Code.

Sharon Dzik, director of the Office for Student Conduct and Academic Integrity, said students still need consequences under the code so they remain safe.

“You don’t want to make it so that people think, ‘Hey, no consequences — I’ll go out and get hammered tonight,’” she said.

Under the code, disciplinary action varies on a case-by-case basis and typically begins with a warning.

Forstie said a Student Conduct Code violation isn’t very detrimental for a student’s record — a legal citation could have more consequences.

Michael Lynch, a chemical engineering freshman, said he supports the conduct code penalties.

“As much fun as it is to go out and party, I think there should be some stipulation for doing that,” he said.

Dzik said the Student Conduct Code sanctions for underage drinkers aren’t meant to punish students.

“We’re not really that punitive as much as we’re educational,” she said. “It’s way different to come to our office than it is to get a ticket that goes on your record.”

But computer science freshman Dylan Haschka said the code’s policy of citing underage drinkers is “counterintuitive” to the medical amnesty law.

“If you’re going to protect students, why are you able to break that policy with another?” he said.

Forstie said MSA has discussed the policy with University officials, but they told MSA no changes to the code are planned.

“We’ve had discussions with the University about how the Student Conduct Code fits into this, and in many ways, it’s just not possible for the University to completely say ‘no consequences,’” he said.