Alcohol Amnesty Policies (Medical Amnesty) Save 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. As it should be.

alcohol amnestyThese policies have one primary goal. It’s to protect the health and lives of students who over-drink and need medical help. It assures them that they will not be subject to disciple for getting that help. Such policies typically provide amnesty only if they later 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 homes.

Some critics argue that alcohol amnesty policies encourage abusive drinking. But few people would argue that requiring seat belts leads people to drive faster. Or that smoke detectors lead people to smoke in bed. Not (1) punishing those who seek help for a medical emergency. Then (2) requiring them to undergo intervention or alcohol education. Does not (3) encourage them to endanger their lives again.

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

Medical amnesty protects a college groups from college action. This is valuable when a group sponsors an event at which medical attention is needed. This level of amnesty provides the largest level of protection. So it encourages people get medical help when needed.

Yet it is the most controversial amnesty policy. Some colleges that give medical amnesty to individuals don’t give it to groups.

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

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


Cornell University explains the logic behind its alcohol amnesty program.

alcohol amnestyIt is imperative that someone call for medical assistance when an individual experiences severe intoxication 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. It “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 starting its alcohol amnesty program, Cornell had an increase in calls for emergency medical help. It also had more emergency room visits for severe alcohol intoxication. But there was no increase in the amount of drinking.

A college that lacks a medical amnesty policy may be putting the safety of its students at risk. And it might find itselvef sued. Without policies to protect its students it might be held legally liable. This could cost it many millions of dollars.

One of Many Needless Deaths

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

alcohol amnesty
Colorado General Assembly

Starting 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 states with alcohol emergency 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.