Medical amnesty changes pass at Towne Meeting

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At the February Towne Meeting, Dean of Students Tracy Murry presented, and the student body passed, a motion to update and clarify New College’s current Medical Amnesty policy. The proposal came on the tail end of a months-long process originally initiated by thesis student Austin Mooney in November of 2013, but will not be put into place until after it is approved by the Board of Trustees.

Mooney, a member of Students for a Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP) and who also served on the committee that drafted the original language of the current Medical Amnesty policy in 2011, began the clarification process in response to a number of issues brought up by students at the beginning of the school year.

“This isn’t about letting students use substances more, it’s about making sure that when students do use substances – which is inevitable – that they’re not going to die or get into serious medical danger,” Mooney explained.

The existing policy reads, “… No student seeking medical attention for him/herself or for another will receive punitive sanctions in regards to a violation of this Regulation.” Although Murry admitted that the original language was very general, the intent of the policy is what matters and is what Student Affairs takes into consideration when possibly leveling corrective measures against students.

Mooney, on the other hand, argued that students should be informed of the medical amnesty policy to begin with, not just when facing possible disciplinary actions.

“The big thing that I think people need to realize about the medical amnesty clause is that it doesn’t seem like it’s something the administration is looking to just jump out and offer you,” Mooney explained. “I think it does apply in many cases and now that Tracy has announced it at the Towne Meeting, that’s the way they’re going to do it moving forward, … but I think anybody who gets in trouble needs to know what medical amnesty is. I don’t trust them to automatically inform people that medical amnesty applies.”

Mooney’s original proposal, which he presented to Murry last semester, provided simple clarification by rewriting the current policy to read: “No student receiving medical attention or seeking for him/herself or another will receive punitive sanctions in regards to violation of this Regulation.” Murry, however, took the opportunity to work with General Counsel Mark St. Louis, to not simply clarify the policy’s intent, but also the stipulations.

“The major changes that we wanted to add were that, although there are no sanctions involved, that we still encourage the person [involved] to meet with someone from the [Counseling and Wellness Center] and do an assessment which is what we already do,” Murry explained. “And the other piece was just a clarification that [medical amnesty] only applies to drug and alcohol violations, so if you’re intoxicated and commit an act of battery on another person, you can’t use medical amnesty for the battery, only for the alcohol.”

Despite the SSDP’s “Know Your Rights” campaigns and the recent vote at the Towne Meeting, a lack of knowledge about the policy is prevalent amongst Novocolegians, even students who have been living on campus for years.

“While I’m lucky enough to have never been in a time of crisis where I needed medical attention, or one of my friends, it would’ve been nice to have some certainty that if I was ever in a situation like that, there would be no hesitation or fear,” thesis student and former Catalyst reporter Paul Zombory said. “I think if someone needs help, whether or not you get in trouble shouldn’t even be a consideration.”

However, this knowledge gap also affects people beyond the New College bubble. According to a 2010 report from the Florida Governor’s Office of Drug Control, seven Floridians die of prescription drug overdose and another person is present in a majority of fatal overdose cases. In one-third of those cases, the second person knew the individual was in distress.

As a way to help prevent the perpetuation of such trends, in 2012 the Florida State legislature passed House Bill 125, also known as the 911 Good Samaritan Act, that offers a similar form of medical amnesty to people involved in drug related overdoses. This past December, the University of South Florida also adopted its own system-wide 911 Good Samaritan Policy.

New College’s own policy still has a ways to go before it becomes official. The vote at the Feb. 12 Towne Meeting was only the first step in many. Next, third-year Cassandra Corrado, who holds a seat on the BOT as the New College Student Alliance president, will present the clarified policy to the Student Affairs Subcommittee. If the committee approves it, the policy will then be passed upwards for deliberation and possible ratification.

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