The College of William and Mary has joined a growing number of universities offering medical amnesty for both drugs and alcohol.
At the start of the school year, students seeking help for medical emergencies caused by illegal drug use no longer face disciplinary consequences from the Dean of Students Office for violating the College’s alcoholic beverage or drug policies.
While students at the College will not face disciplinary action if they invoke medical amnesty, they may still suffer consequences including required counseling and drug and alcohol education. Similar to the College’s alcohol amnesty policy, students must invoke amnesty “proactively,” according to the language of the policy. Students cannot ask for amnesty after having been caught. The policy does not apply to the William and Mary and Williamsburg Police Departments.
Medical amnesty policies for drugs and alcohol have been implemented on college campuses throughout the United States. Other universities offering full drug and alcohol amnesty include the University of Ohio, Brown University, Vanderbilt University and the California Institute of Technology.
The University of Virginia and Duke University provide medical amnesty solely for cases involving alcohol use.
Achieving full drug amnesty has been a long-term goal of student government at the College, according to Student Assembly Vice President Ryan Ruzic J.D. ’11.
“It’s something that the Student Assembly’s been pushing for a long time,” Ruzic said. “It’s a really great idea because otherwise students wouldn’t get the medical help they need for fear of being punished by the university.”
Ruzic believes that drug amnesty makes sense for the same reason as alcohol amnesty — student safety.
“It’s a very common sense expansion of the alcohol amnesty,” he said.
According to Ruzic, there was little opposition to full drug amnesty in the SA, though some senators asked if full medical amnesty might send the wrong message. “There were some in the SA who were reluctant to extend amnesty because they viewed it as condoning that sort of behavior,” Ruzic said. Nevertheless, the SA legislation urging the administration to adopt full medical amnesty passed unanimously this April.
This most recent, successful initiative was passed after discussions between SA members and the Dean of Students office. Sen. Ben Brown ’10 and SA Undersecretary of College Policy for Drug and Alcohol Reform
Will Sinnott ’11, developed a proposal for the new policy, which they presented to the Dean of Students office in the winter of 2008. The idea was then seized upon by Associate Dean of Students Dave Gilbert.
According to Brown, Gilbert would rather see [students] seek medical attention than not do so for fear of a student conduct violation. Brown was pleased with the role the SA played in updating the College’s medical amnesty policy.
“I don’t think [full medical amnesty] would have been enacted this year or in coming years without the SA,” Brown said. “[Dean Gilbert] hadn’t been thinking about it until we came to him.”
The new policy is something of a triumph for the SA. According to Brown, the SA is often handicapped by its lack of influence in the administration.
“It’s really frustrating not having any authority to change things at the school,” he said. “Most of the bills like that don’t actually change the policy because we don’t have authority over student conduct.”
Neither Ruzic nor Brown foresee the policy having an immediate effect.
According to Ruzic, a student at the College has not died of a drug overdose in at least the past two years.
The policy is nevertheless a significant achievement.
“We’ve done all we can in the policy because it’s extended to where it covers pretty much everything,” Ruzic said. “Going to full amnesty from limited amnesty certainly puts William and Mary on the forefront of drug policy.”
Dean Gilbert could not be reached for comment.