The University of Georgia Student Government Association has championed a crucial change in the university’s amnesty policy.
The original policy, designed to encourage students to call for help in the event of any injuries resulting from drug or alcohol use, was that students who requested medical assistance for an overdose would be protected from punishment by the university, but the person who overdosed would not.
“There have been students who have gotten in trouble but also been too scared to call because they know that someone may get in trouble. It’ll be their friend passed out on the floor and they need to be sure they make that call,” SGA President Houston Gaines says. “We’re lucky we haven’t lost someone’s life.”
The new policy will extend amnesty to the person who overdosed. It takes effect today. Officials hope that this expansion will encourage students to seek medical assistance without fear of the consequences.
This change in the amnesty policy is in keeping with the Georgia 9-1-1 Medical Amnesty Law. The law, passed in 2014, grants medical amnesty to anyone who asks for medical assistance in the case of overdose, regardless of the substance’s legality
“[UGA’s] protocol that hasn’t been changed since 2007 despite state law being changed in 2014, so it was very important for us to make this change to line up with state law,” Gaines says.
This issue recently surfaced in the news after UGA police officer Jay Park lost his job after extending amnesty to intoxicated students before the policy was changed.
“While that story did bring a lot of attention to this particular issue, this change wasn’t directly related to that incident,” Gaines says.
UGA officials are optimistic about this initiative and feel that it will contribute to the safety of UGA students.
“The University has the safety and welfare of our students as its top concern and we support any effort from the SGA or otherwise to keep our students safe,” Director of Student Affairs Communications and Marketing Initiative Stan Jackson says.
Gaines and other SGA members have been working towards this change since their election in March. For the rest of the summer and fall semester, they plan to focus on educating the student body about the policy.
“The whole purpose of outreach on this is to let students know that this is now policy. If students aren’t aware of it, who cares what it is,” Gaines says.
Ultimately, Gaines hopes that this change will usher in a safer campus environment.
“I think it has the potential to save lives and that’s why we push for it. You’re one instance away from someone not calling for help and someone dying, and that’s a huge issue,” Gaines says. “Fortunately, now we can say ‘Make that call.’”
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