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Medical amnesty proposal slowly makes its way through student government

The resolution calls on ASU to protect students from repercussions when calling in emergencies that involve illegal substances


"When it happened, the fear of getting in trouble stopped her from calling authorities for help." Illustration published Monday, March 23, 2020.

Maya Tatum, a senior studying justice and African American studies, described her friend dying from substance abuse as "the most powerless feeling." 

"Experiencing something like that and being able to do nothing," was the hardest part, she said. 

When it happened, the fear of getting in trouble stopped her from calling authorities for help.

"No one should have to make the decision between saving their friends' lives and not getting themselves in trouble," Tatum said. 

Tatum has spent her time as an undergraduate student with the Students for Sensible Drug Policy Downtown, advocating for a medical amnesty policy that would save students from making this decision.

On March 6, the Undergraduate Student Government Downtown became the second campus at ASU to pass a resolution calling on the University to enact a medical amnesty policy. 

USGD's Senate Resolution 5 asks the University to protect students from academic and legal repercussions if they were to report a life-threatening emergency involving illegal substances.

A similar resolution calling for a medical amnesty policy at ASU was passed by Undergraduate Student Government Tempe in April 2019. The bill was brought to USGT by Tatum, the president of Students for Sensible Drug Policy at the time.

When the USGT Senate unanimously agreed to pass Resolution 11, Tatum explained it as one of her "happiest undergrad moments."

According to ASU's Student Services Manual, "possession or consumption of alcohol in University Housing is prohibited," as well as "the unlawful sale, manufacture, distribution, dispensation, possession, and use of controlled substances on its property."

Violators of the University's drugs and alcohol policy could face suspension or expulsion and may have to participate in a drug education or assessment program.

Grace Ramsey, chief of staff for USGD, said she proposed the resolution because as the president of SSDPD, she felt ASU's current policy discourages students from calling for help during emergencies involving drugs and alcohol.

"We do know that zero-tolerance policies can be harmful to students," said Ramsey, a senior studying criminal justice and public policy. "If they feel like they're afraid, and they're not going to ask for help, they could overdose, they can let their friends overdose."

Tatum said she advocates for a medical amnesty policy in order to save students' lives — not just now but in the future as well. 

"It's not just about us, it's about protecting the students that come after us," Tatum said. "Twenty years from now, somebody's going to need this policy. Next year, somebody is going to need this policy, and it's going to save their life."

Corey Ball, director of diversity for USGD and a freshman studying journalism with a minor in health care compliance and regulations, said he helped sponsor the bill because of his focus on health policy and the health of students. 

"This resolution would help to reinforce the health of our students, by them being able to reach out to get help," Ball said.

Tatum hopes USGT and USGD's support will push the Polytechnic and West campuses to join in calling ASU to implement this policy.

"Get on board, because this is not about encouraging students to do X, Y and Z," Tatum said. "It is simply about saving their lives."

A copy of Resolution 5 will be sent to the Arizona Board of Regents as well as ASU Provost Mark Searle, Vice President for Academic Affairs Stefanie Lindquist and downtown Dean of Students Sharon Smith. 

"We want to let them (ASU faculty and ABOR) know what it is we want to do and what (they) need to do for an amnesty policy to be effective," Ramsey said. "We want to make sure ASU gets a written, clear policy on their website, make sure that we have an educational campaign, letting students know this exists."

Ball hopes implementing a medical amnesty policy would not only save the lives of students but connect them to the University as well.

"I hope that it will help to bolster a sense that the University is looking out for us, its students, and its students' health," Ball said. 

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