Thursday, March 03, 2011

UMD SSDP Wins Four Year Campaign

Four years ago, as a sophomore at the University of Maryland (and at the time President of the UMD SSDP chapter), I was elected to the University Senate, the most powerful policy making body on campus, comprised of 90% faculty, and 10% students. In an effort to place myself in a position to influence campus drug policy, I sought and received an appointment to serve on the Student Conduct Committee. There I proposed adopting a Good Samaritan (or medical amnesty) policy that would ensure students would be protected from judicial sanctions if they called 911 for themselves or a friend who needed emergency medical attention due to an alcohol or other drug overdose. I had no idea that this would mark the beginning of a very long, difficult, and complicated saga, culminating in a Senate vote that took place yesterday.

When things began back in 2007, the idea was not exactly welcomed with open arms by the other members of the committee, many administrators were not convinced that implementing such a policy was necessary, and some feared that students would abuse the policy or that it would send a message that drinking/using drugs was acceptable. I was surprised by the level of opposition I faced, and frustrated by the painfully slow process. Even after the student body voted overwhelmingly in favor of adopting the policy, the administration did not take action.
Things were not looking good:
My time as a Senator expired in 2008, by the time I graduated in 2009, Irina Alexander (currently the Chair of our National Board of Directors, who was leading the UMD SSDP chapter at the time) picked up right where I left off when she was elected to the University Senate. She conducted research, continued to build coalitions, met with and kept pressure on administrators to adopt a life saving Good Samaritan policy.

She and other student leaders fought tooth and nail to help pass a watered down version of the proposed policy. The "Promoting Responsible Action in Medical Emergencies" protocol provided protection for alcohol only, and did not clearly nor permanently alleviate student fears that might cause hesitation in potentially life threatening situations. This was a compromise that had to be made in order to move the issue forward, but by no means was it considered an acceptable end solution.

Students continued to encounter obstacle after obstacle:
But UMD SSDP was not willing to throw in the towel. In September 2010, Crystal Varkalis, Vice President of the chapter was featured in an article titled "Still Fighting" sharing her touching personal story about losing a friend to a drug overdose, which fueled her passion for this issue.

Finally, as seen in the video above, the University Senate passed the medical amnesty policy in a 78-1 vote. Additionally, The Diamondback editorialized in our favor, praising the hard work students exhibited in seeing this through.

While we still have much work to do to extend this policy to apply to all drugs, not only alcohol, yesterday marked an important victory. The people and institutions that provided invaluable time, resources, and support are too numerous to name, but without the help of others, there's no way anyone could have made this happen on their own. I want to extend my sincerest gratitude to everyone who played a part in this saga, no matter how small. You all should be proud that you helped to implement a policy that makes student health and safety a #1 priority and that could prevent the indescribable pain experienced by loved ones of students who didn't get the help they needed in time to save their life.

Words can’t even describe how it feels to see my idea come to fruition. I feel honored and humbled to have played a role in this policy change, and feel an incredible sense of pride about the work we all did to turn this dream of reform into reality.