By Katie Quaranta
When Ohio University student Meghan Hanrahan saw the results of a survey indicating 94 percent of her fellow undergraduates would not call for help in an alcohol- or drug-related medical emergency -- primarily out of fear that they or their friends would face repercussions -- she was convinced the university needed a program to change those statistics.
"It just concerned me that students didn't feel they should call for help because they were afraid of Judiciaries," said Hanrahan, who has been involved in the issue through various Student Senate roles. "If you're sick or your friend is sick, you should get help."
These concerns are addressed as part of a new Medical Emergency Assistance (MEA) program, which will operate as a pilot program this academic year. It involves required education, assistance and a fee.
According to Director of Health Promotion Char Kopchick, these kinds of programs --designed to increase student safety and encourage good citizenship -- are an emerging trend on university campuses.
"We recognize that sometimes a student will make a high-risk choice. That's the reality on any campus," Kopchick said. "But we don't want fear of getting into trouble to prevent someone from getting medical help."
The MEA program applies to students who seek emergency medical treatment for themselves or a friend as a result of an alcohol or drug episode. The director of University Judiciaries will determine on a case-by-case basis if a student qualifies.
Once enrolled in the program, students are required to comply with all recommendations for educational interventions; complete an appropriate alcohol or other drug intervention program through Ohio University Counseling and Psychological Services; and pay a $100 fee to cover the cost of the program.
Students not meeting these requirements would go before Judiciaries for the original incident. They also would be accountable for any other illegal actions, such as assault or property damage, regardless of their participation in the program.
Students receiving emergency treatment can only utilize the program once.
"This is not a get-out-of-jail-free card," said Hanrahan, who served as a member of the medical amnesty task force that helped to shape these guidelines. "You are going to learn from your mistakes."
Terry Koons, associate director of health promotion and chair of the task force, agrees that educating students about the consequences of high-risk behaviors is one of the effort's primary objectives.
"One of the main (goals) for the campaign is to make people more aware of the warning signs of an overdose of alcohol or drugs," he said.
Last fall -- after Kopchick and Koons made a presentation to Student Senate -- the senate passed a resolution, which Hanrahan co-authored, supporting the need for such a program. President Roderick J. McDavis then formed a task force with members from Student Senate, Residence Life, University Judiciaries, faculty and O'Bleness Memorial Hospital.
In addition to researching similar programs around the country, task force members sent a survey to a random sampling of undergraduates to assess the mindset of Ohio University students on the topic. The results indicated not only that 94 percent of the students would not call for help in a medical emergency involving drugs or alcohol, but also that nearly the same percentage of students would assist a friend in trouble if a medical amnesty program were offered.
The university plans to promote the program this quarter through commercials on CATVision, strategically placed posters and educational efforts in residence halls. Students wearing a cell phone costume also will be present at various campus events to distribute educational information.
At the end of fall quarter, Health Promotions will conduct another survey to assess student awareness and attitudes regarding the program and their willingness to use it. The department will track the number of students seeking emergency treatment for alcohol- and drug-related problems. In the spring, the task force will evaluate the statistics to determine whether the program should continue.
Kopchick noted that MEA is among several university measures aimed at reducing drug and alcohol abuse on campus. Others include the required online educational program AlcoholEDU and the POWER program, which utilizes a group of peer health educators to help other students learn about health-related issues facing college students.
In addition to these efforts, the university implemented a comprehensive strategy to reduce high-risk drinking two years ago. It includes increased disciplinary sanctions, educational interventions and the consistent communication of expectations for students who choose to illegally or irresponsibly use alcohol.