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A Medical Amnesty Policy (MAP) increased help seeking on campus during alcohol-related medical emergencies

As universities consider what environmental management strategies to adopt to curb harmful drinking on campus, consumption restrictions and greater enforcement of alcohol use policies have had the unintended consequence of increasing barriers to seeking help during alcohol-related medical emergencies. Following a harm-reduction model, some campuses have implemented medical amnesty policies (MAPs) that minimize or waive penalties for students who experience alcohol-related medical emergencies or try to help someone experiencing one. The current study evaluated the effectiveness of a MAP by tracking outcomes the year before and the year during its implementation at a private West coast university. Demographic predictors, recent alcohol consumption, and alcohol-related problems were measured in two sequential cohorts of first year students at the beginning and end of their first year. The study yielded a demographically diverse sample representative of the student body (pre-MAP, n = 571; post-MAP, n = 675).
There was no increase in alcohol consumption on campus after the implementation of MAP. Frequency and typical quantity of alcohol consumption did not differ pre-MAP and post-MAP. Physiological consequences did not differ. However, there was a significant increase in contacts to campus authorities, including residence life staff, during alcohol-related medical emergencies. This suggests less reliance on more distal off-campus emergency personnel and better access to immediate help. The study authors call for more evaluations of campus MAPs at different types of universities, across all years of undergraduates, and among students with extreme consumption patterns.

Take Away: The implementation of a medical amnesty policy (MAP) increased help seeking on campus during medical emergencies and showed no increases in alcohol consumption or related problems. It may be an environmental strategy to reduce consequences of harmful drinking at universities.

Haas, A.L., Wickham, R.E., McKenna, K., Morimoto, E. & Brown, L.M. (2018). Evaluating the effectiveness of a medical amnesty policy change on college students’ alcohol consumption, physiological consequences, and helping behaviors. Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, 79(4), 523-531. doi.org/10.15288/jsad.2018.79.523


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