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The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald


UW faculty discuss medical amnesty policy, student protections

Medical Amnesty Through Responsible Actions program protects students from certain UWPD violations
Eddie Kustner
Badger Herald archival photo of the University of Wisconsin Police Department building. April 14, 2023.

In 2022, there were 690 liquor and drug law violations on campus property, according to the University of Wisconsin’s 2023 Annual Security and Fire Safety Report. To combat the risk associated with underage drinking, the Medical Amnesty Through Responsible Actions program was implemented in 2017, aiming to provide a safer environment for students who find themselves or others in need of medical assistance during such incidents.

Madison is nationally ranked for its binge drinking, according to the Observatory. Much of this binge drinking revolves around the university, which is well known for its party school reputation.

With 47% of undergraduate students at the university engaging in high-risk drinking, according to University Health Services, the university has recognized the need for proactive measures to ensure student safety. UHS defines high-risk drinking as consuming four or more drinks in one sitting for females, and five or more for males.


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UHS Drug Misuse Prevention Specialist Jenna Retzlaff said medical amnesty removes the possible barrier for a student calling for help.

“Amnesty is put in place to help make sure the fear of consequences doesn’t get in the way of student safety,” Retzlaff said. “Students might be worried about calling for help if they or someone they know is under the influence of alcohol and/or other drugs. And so with part amnesty, the [UWPD] want to make sure that students are calling if they feel they need to call for help.”

The Medical Amnesty Through Responsible Actions policy specifically removes violations for both students who call for UWPD as well as individuals requiring aid if they cooperate with first responders, according to the policy website. This differs from the previous Responsible Actions Guidelines which only gave the caller amnesty.

Associate Director of Student Conduct and Community Standards Ryan Podolak said the policy change came after discussions with students.

“The amnesty policy used to only cover the caller or the student who was calling for help and not the student who needed help,” Podolak said. “Several years back, students were consulted and student affairs got feedback on that. A few years ago, the policy was updated so that amnesty protects both the caller and the student that needs help.”

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If a student receives treatment at a medical facility for alcohol or other drugs, they will not receive an official sanction if they attend the required follow-up program/intervention, and comply with recommendations from their AOD provider and OSCCS staff member, according to the Office of Student Conduct and Community Standards.

While the student completes the requirements from OSCCS, UWPD will pause any underage citations until the student meets their obligations. Students’ parents or guardians may still be contacted if they are transported to the emergency room for an alcohol or drug overdose, according to UW’s Parent/Guardian Involvement Policy.

The amnesty policy does not protect the supply of alcohol or other drugs, students who exhibit a pattern of repeated behavior with alcohol or other drugs, or students who violate other student conduct policies. Further, amnesty only applies to violations handled by UWPD — violations handled by the Madison Police Department will not be protected under medical amnesty.

“It’s tricky for students to understand that this only applies to citations issued by the University of Wisconsin Police Department,” Podolak said. “So if students are off-campus somewhere, we don’t have a vote about if anyone gets issued a citation or not. We would like to think in all likelihood, that if someone needs help, and they’re off-campus, and they call 911, they’ll receive medical attention and people won’t generally be interested in trying to issue citations to the four or five friends that are there just trying to get help for the student, but that’s ultimately a Madison Police Department decision.”

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A study conducted at Georgetown University examined call data for six semesters prior to and after the implementation of a medical amnesty policy on its campus. Data revealed an increase in the number of alcohol-related calls to the college-based emergency medical services as well as an earlier median time of alcohol-related calls. There was also a 5.3% decrease in requests for advanced life support resources.

Similarly, a Cornell University study revealed fear of punishment is one of the primary reasons students don’t seek medical attention for severely intoxicated friends. The most cited reason, based on a sample of Cornell undergraduates, was that students weren’t sure if their friends were sick enough to warrant medical help. The second most cited reason was that students were afraid their friends would get in trouble.

Information about the amnesty rule is available in the AlcoholEdu program which is required for all first-year students. Additionally, all registered student organizations are required to have one member complete an orientation which includes additional training about the amnesty policy, Retzlaff said.

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