Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Students are dying to see campus drug policies changed

USA Today has a sobering article on the all-too-high rate of college student deaths. The paper conducted an analysis of 620 deaths of four-year college and university students since Jan. 1, 2000.

It turns out that many of these deaths would have been prevented by sensible campus drug policies. But instead, far too many colleges and universities keep looking for more and more ways to punish students for using alcohol or other drugs, even if the threat of these punishments deters students from taking simple lifesaving steps.

Lynn Gordon Bailey, a student at the University of Colorado, died shortly after the start of his freshman year because his fraternity friends didn't call the paramedics for help in time, out of fear they'd be punished. The call was made the next morning, only after it became clear that he was already dead.

The signs of death were obvious to emergency medical technician Thomas Dunn as he examined Lynn Gordon "Gordie" Bailey's face on Sept. 17, 2004. Answering a 911 call, rescuers found that the college freshman had died the previous night from an alcohol overdose.


As he went door-to-door inside the Chi Psi house in Boulder, Dunn, a psychology professor at the University of Northern Colorado and part-time EMT, woke up students to ensure that there were no more victims from the initiation party. When he looked around the house littered with empty bottles, Dunn says, it was his experience as a teacher that spoke to him. "I thought, 'Where did we let these kids down?' " Dunn says. "Very little about that house, from what I saw, had any evidence of scholarly pursuits. ... I was appalled."

As Dunn woke up still-drunken students and told fraternity leaders that Bailey was dead, he watched them go from crying to becoming fearful and silent.

You can listen to the belated 911 call here.

This is just one of several examples mentioned in the USA Today article, and is one of way too many preventable college student deaths each year. Luckily, some schools and state governments are now taking action to save lives.

After Bailey's death, the Colorado Legislature enacted a law that grants immunity to anybody drinking illegally who calls 911 to get help for a drunken friend. Dunn says medics are now getting more calls.

National fraternity leaders are encouraging students to call for help without worrying about getting the fraternity in trouble.

"One of the biggest problems out there is students are afraid to call for help," says Geof Brown, director of alcohol-education initiatives for the North America Interfraternity Conference, which has 5,500 chapters at 800 campuses. "Our groups are taking a more proactive posture these days."

This is one of the reasons SSDP has just launched a new campaign that will help students enact sensible drug policies on their campuses. Colleges and universities aren't going to take action by themselves. Its up to us to make them adopt policies that stop killing students.


800 pound gorilla said...

One of the questions posed in my drug manual has to do with undercover police posing as taxi drivers to catch underage drinkers and illegal drug users. Since responsible users of these drugs that cause impairment utilize taxis wouldn't the presence of police deter responsible drug use.
The question is: would you rather see drug impaired people operate vehicles or have them safely transported home? And how quickly will taxi use by impaired people go down after the first few arrests? But this idea appeals to the "zero tolerance" advocates who are basically venal in nature.
And as a former taxi operator I've been pressured by police to "cooperate in catching people looking for prostitutes or drugs". And I've seen undercover police operating other taxis - usually as part of a plea bargain with convicted cab owners.
This is a classic case of authority figures playing "gotcha" - with disastrous consequences. The effects of stigmatization often delay treatment. And this is not due to the War on Drugs. We've stigmatized anyone who has trouble with drug use as having a "character deficiency". Leaders who couldn't hold their alcohol [or other drugs accepted in bonding rituals] losed status. And drug use isn't the only affliction stigmatized: those who suffered from asthma were derided as weaklings because they had trouble bonding with sports and other contests. And it's easy to pass laws making life miserable for those we hold in low esteem.

Nigel Watt said...

Not only is the statement in your title true, but prohibition makes it more likely that when young people do gain access to drugs or alcohol, they splurge, thus causing even more tragedies.

Anonymous said...

25 years ago, while I was a student at St. Mary's College in Maryland, an incident took place in which, because campus authorities would not allow beer to be sold on the premises, students would walk to off-campus taverns along a poorly lit country highway. As you could expect, one was struck by a car and killed, and a memorial was set up on campus bearing his name, which is still there today. Another example of the costs of 'zero tolerance'.

cliff said...

This issue is being covered at Hit & Run (Reason Magazine Blog). Good job on your coverage of this issue and keep up the good work. Yours in Liberty.

Drug Rehabilitation said...

I am so sorry that more and more students are into drugs. Anyway, this new legislature seems to really thwart the number of deaths and the number of student drug dependents eventually. I have so much sympathy for student drug users since I have a nephew who used to be one. Now he is in a drug rehabilitation center after getting busted.