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Impact of a University Alcohol Policy Change on Bystander Responses to Alcohol-Related Medical Emergencies

College undergraduate students are at a higher risk for excessive alcohol use translating to a major public health concern. The current study combines two studies to examine implementation of a campus underage drinking policy. The policy changed mid-year to zero-tolerance for alcohol use by underage students.

The first study was a program evaluation of campus emergency medical service (EMS) records. Results showed that there were differences in locations of EMS calls and a 50% reduction in patient’s getting care on-campus after policy implementation. They also found that there were fewer transports and paramedic calls after the policy was in place. The second study included Qualitative narrative of campus EMS providers. This study asked campus EMS if they received any off-duty calls (ODC) during the academic year. They asked them to provide a description including dates, details, and final dispositions.  They found that there was a 307% increase per quarter after the policy was implemented.

The results of the two studies were compiled into 3 themes. The first discusses how students made ODC’s instead of contacting campus safety due to fear of ramifications due to the new policy. Because of this, bystanders did not contact proper personnel even when there was a clear emergency. The second theme was that ODC’s were deemed a medical emergency, but formal medical attention was delayed. The third and finally theme discussed was that student misunderstood campus alcohol policy sanctions and how they impacted bystanders caring for peers. Overall these results show that a more stringent campus alcohol policy may change student’s responses for medical emergencies due to fear of repercussions to themselves. This shows that there needs to be improved education and communications to students about dangerous of alcohol poisoning and importance of contacting proper emergency services regardless of campus policy.

Take Away: The current study combines two studies to review implementation of a stricter campus underage drinking policy. The first study evaluated campus EMS records and found that there was a 50% reduction in patient’s getting care on-campus after the policy was implemented. The second study asked for qualitative narratives of EMS providers ODC’s. They found there was a 307% increase after the policy was implemented. Three themes were determined to explain the results. These included students making ODC’s instead of calling campus safety, ODC’s deemed medical emergencies had delayed medical attention, and students misunderstood the new campus alcohol policy. This all shows the need for improved education and communication to students about dangers of alcohol poisoning and importance of contacting proper emergency services regardless of policy.

Haas, A. L., & Welter, N. C. (2018). Impact of a University Alcohol Policy Change on Bystander Responses to Alcohol-Related Medical Emergencies. Journal of Drug Education, 48(3-4), 103–117. doi: 10.1177/0047237919880949

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