Number of alcohol-related medical emergencies rise

According to College officials, the number of alcohol-related transports to the hospital is on the rise. There have been 19 transports to the hospital for alcohol overdoses from Aug. 15 to Nov. 15, the last date for which the organization has data available, according to Lions’ EMS, the College’s student-run volunteer paramedic organization.

The number does not include other injuries that required transport to the hospital and are alcohol-related, such as a drunken student who falls and cuts his head, nor does it include transports from off-campus parties or houses.

According to Doug Smith, Lions’ EMS chief/president, his crew has been answering more alcohol-related calls this year than he has in past years. He said his crew averages seven to eight calls for alcohol overdoses a month, though he recalled one night in which he had to answer five different alcohol-related calls.

Smith said of all the calls he’s dealt with this year, only two were real medical emergencies. But out of caution, most students who Lions’ EMS is called to treat are transported to the hospital.

When it comes to deciding whether a student has to be transported, Smith said the office of Residential and Community Development (ORCD) professional staff member on the scene makes that decision when the patient cannot.

If a patient is under 21 and has admitted to drinking, he or she cannot refuse an ambulance himself because he’s in an “alerted state of mind,” and ORCD staff will almost never waive an ambulance on a student’s behalf.

Students rarely want to go, he said. “It’s amazing how people retain that ability (to protest an ambulance being called),” Smith said with a laugh.

According to Joe Hadge, coordinator of the Alcohol Drug Education Program (ADEP), most incidents involve freshmen. The most problematic times are the beginning of the year, with the worst days of the week being Tuesday, Friday and Saturday nights.

When Lions’ EMS members evaluate a patient, they first look at the mental status of the patient. Smith said he looks to see if a patient can answer basic questions in a somewhat coherent manner and if the patient can look him in the eye.

“We ask the same kinds of questions you would,” Smith said, such as how much a patient has drank, what he was drinking and whether he has vomited.

According to Smith, signs of a serious medical problem are a purple face, loss of breathing, any sort of bleeding or having fallen on the ground.

Smith and Hadge both said the students who are transported usually have been drinking hard alcohol, rather than beer.

Smith said the most common culprits are vodka and Southern Comfort. He also said for many patients, it was their first time trying hard alcohol.

According to Hadge, many students don’t understand what “one drink,” means. He said one red Solo cup of liquor could easily be four drinks without the student realizing it.

Worse, students may be drinking several drinks quickly, or without eating, which increases the effects of alcohol.

Hadge said he thinks the increase in transports in part comes out of an abundance of caution.

“People used to say ‘we’ll check on them later,'” Hadge said. “We’re now all more cautious about letting someone leave the door.”

He said the rise may be in part due to friends’ and roommates’ increased awareness of the dangers of alcohol poisoning.

Part of the increase, too, may come from increased awareness on the part of Community Advisors and other staff who are active in the community and are coming across more drunk students, Hadge said.

“What we don’t know,” Hadge said, “is whether this group is making less quality decisions.”

Hadge said the administration will hold a summit over Winter Break to discuss the issue and how to respond to it. Proposed solutions range from more enforcement and “zero tolerance” to more education, but no front-runner has emerged, he said.

Overall, Hadge said alcohol abuse is a challenge on every campus. He has spoken to peer institutions where the number of incidents is also on the rise, he said.