Alcohol Amnesty Policies (Medical Amnesty) Save College Student Lives.

College Emergency Alcohol Amnesty Policies

College policies for medical emergency alcohol amnesty are widespread. They place protecting the health and safety of students as a college’s very highest priority.

alcohol amnestyThese policies have one primary goal. It’s to protect the health and lives of students who over-consume alcohol and need medical help. It assuring them that they will not be subject to disciplinary actions for obtaining that help. Such policies typically provide amnesty only if they subsequently successfully complete an intervention or alcohol education program. Thus, their second priority is educational.

Harm Reduction

Amnesty programs are a harm reduction policy. Other harm reduction policies require people to use seat safety belts or use smoke detectors in their living quarters.

Some critics have suggested that alcohol amnesty policies encourage abusive drinking. However, few people would argue that requiring seat belts leads people to drive faster. Or that smoke detectors lead people to smoke in bed. Not punishing those who seek help for a medical emergency but requiring them to undergo intervention or alcohol education does not encourage them to endanger their lives again.

Medical amnesty often includes anyone who seeks help for a student who needs medical assistance. These are “good Samaritan” policies. However, many institutions make no such distinction.

Organizational medical amnesty protects a college organization from college action. This is valuable when an organization sponsors an event at which medical attention is sought. This level of amnesty provides the largest level of protection and encouragement to seek medical help when needed.

However, it is the most controversial amnesty policy. Some institutions that provide medical amnesty to individuals do not provide it to organizations.

A medical amnesty program does not protect against prosecution from civil authorities.

To be effective, such policies must be clear, unambiguous and widely understood by students.


Cornell University explains the rationale behind its alcohol amnesty program.

alcohol amnestyIt is imperative that someone call for medical assistance when an individual experiences severe intoxication or a serious injury after consuming alcohol. People may be reluctant to seek help in such alcohol-related emergencies because of potential judicial consequences for themselves, the person in need of assistance, or the organization hosting the event where the situation occurs. Since these emergencies are potentially life threatening, Cornell seeks to reduce barriers to seeking assistance. (emphasis in original)

Cornell continues that its medical amnesty program “represents the University’s commitment to increasing the likelihood that community members will call for medical assistance when faced with an alcohol-related emergency.” It “also promotes education for individuals who receive emergency medical attention related to their own use of alcohol in order to reduce the likelihood of future occurrences.” (emphases in original)


After implementing its alcohol amnesty program, Cornell had an increase in calls for emergency medical services. It also had more emergency room visits for severe alcohol intoxication. However, there was no increase in the amount of drinking on campus.

Colleges that lack medical amnesty policies may be putting the safety of their students at risk. Thus they might find themselves sued. Without reasonable policies to protect their students they might be held legally liable. This could cost them many millions of dollars.

One of Many Needless Deaths

A freshman at the University of Colorado died of an alcohol overdose because his fraternity brothers didn’t call paramedics. They didn’t seek medical assistance. At that time the University had harsh alcohol policies and punishments.

alcohol amnesty
Colorado General Assembly

Implementing pragmatic campus policies can prevent such needless deaths. Following the student’s tragic death, Colorado enacted a good Samaritan law. It grants immunity to anyone drinking illegally who calls 911 to get help for a drunken friend.

The Medical Amnesty Initiative identifies all states with alcohol emergecy medical amnesty laws


Hundreds of colleges and universities have adopted medical amnesty policies. They place high value on protecting their students from harm or death.

Every college and university should have a medical emergency alcohol amnesty policy. Indeed, every state should have one.