When ambulances whisk away students from the on-campus residence halls to the hospital, they soon find themselves sitting across from Valla Hardy, the community standards coordinator for University Housing, trying to tell their story.
According to Hardy, the incident is hardly a pleasant thing to retell.
“It’s a pretty scary experience being transported by ambulance to the hospital and potentially have an IV drip attached to you, or not remembering the situation,” she said.
According to the University Police Department (UPD), there were a total of 63 alcohol and drug-related hospital calls made on campus during the 2012-13 academic year — 43 of which ended with transports to the hospital. With the current academic year almost two-thirds of the way over, there have already been 58 calls from campus, most coming from the residence halls.
So far this year, 43 calls have resulted in hospitalizations — the same number as the entire 2012-13 school year.
Though alcohol poisoning directly affects the student victims, Hardy said, the incident touches others as well.
“I think the hardest part for students is telling their families,” Hardy said. “Additionally, they are concerned about the impact that they’ve had on the community. When an ambulance and an EMT team come in and they remove a student for overconsumption, a lot of people may have witnessed that.”
Hardy has had these dialogues with students several times this year, whether it was because of alcohol poisoning inside or outside the residence halls.
Andrene Kawai-Lenting, Cal Poly’s Aware Awake Alive representative, said the overall spike in calls this year was not entirely because of an increase in alcohol consumption.
“I believe that there’s an increase in the calls because we are educating our students to make the call,” Kawai-Lenting said. “Since Aware Awake Alive was introduced to Cal Poly over a year ago, Cal Poly’s incident of intervention has exceeded … Four years ago, five years ago, six years ago, students didn’t even know to make the call. They were too afraid.”
Kawai-Lenting, however, said she still believes alcohol poisoning is an issue on campus.
“The fact that they are even drinking at such excess is a problem,” she said. “And if they are going to continue to do that, let’s continue to be educators about the signs of alcohol poisoning.”
UPD Chief George Hughes also supported the calls. He said students should not be afraid to call about a friend suffering from alcohol poisoning, even if they are underage.
According to California’s 911 Lifeline Legislation, a person who uses alcohol or drugs illegally will be exempt from arrest and prosecution of minor drug or alcohol-related offenses if they seek medical help.
This law prevents law enforcement agencies from punishing those seeking medical attention.
“Our first priority is the health and safety of the individual,” Hughes said.
But if a student living on campus overdoses and goes to the hospital, they may have to attend an alcohol awareness class or talk with administrators once they recover, Hughes said.
Some hospitals also strive to protect the alcohol poisoning victim as well.
According to a federal law called HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act), hospitals are required to keep patients’ files confidential. This means a person checked in for alcohol poisoning can be treated and not worry about law enforcement knowing they overdosed.
“We aren’t law enforcement; we are here to help,” said Georgette Sabota, emergency room director at Sierra Vista Regional Medical Center in San Luis Obispo.
Though students are protected in a variety of ways when it comes to alcohol poisoning, Cal Poly encourages students to stop the problem before it happens.
In order to combat alcohol poisoning and other related issues, Cal Poly offers resources on the Health Center website that include advice on how to keep a friend from overdosing to a chart that helps gauge blood-alcohol level after one, two or more drinks.
But according to Hardy, there is another way to prevent alcohol poisoning that doesn’t involve looking at charts and advice on websites.
“Know in advance what your limits are and where you are going, who you are going with, return with those people,” she said. “Only go out and do the things that you planned to do. It’s when students stray from their plan that seem to be the cases where they’re finding themselves in jeopardizing situations.”