Lessons from the Roslyn Overdose Story

Monday, October 18, 2010

A recent story about a college party in tiny Roslyn, WA, in which nine people were taken to the hospital for possible overdoses, has received national media attention.  It’s alleged that drinks at the party were spiked with drugs (possibly Rohypnol, aka “roofies”), although authorities are still awaiting toxicology reports. If students were indeed drugged without consent, let’s hope law enforcement catches up with those responsible. However, a less talked about and equally disturbing aspect of the story is that “not one person chose to call 911."

This is unfortunate on several levels, but most glaringly because Washington state recently enacted a law specifically designed to deal with this type of situation. The 911 Good Samaritan law works as follows: If you think you’re witnessing a drug overdose and seek medical help, you will receive immunity from criminal charges of drug possession.  The overdose victim you’re helping is protected, too. Calling 911 is always the right response.

In 2008, 794 people died from drug overdoses in Washington – more than two per day on average. Many of the people who died were young, and many of the deaths could have been prevented. Most overdose deaths do not occur until at least 1 to 3 hours have passed since the drugs were initially taken.  Luckily, no one died at the Roslyn party.  

It should also be noted that many of the people in attendance at the Roslyn party were students of Central Washington University, which has its own Good Samaritan policy. It states:

The welfare of our students is of the highest importance to Central Washington University. There will be times when individuals, both on and off campus, may be in critical need of assistance from medical or other professional person. Central wants to minimize any hesitation that students or student organizations might have in obtaining help due to concern that their own behavior might be a violation of University policy.

While policy violations cannot be overlooked, the University will take into consideration the positive impact of reporting an incident on the welfare of students when determining the appropriate response for policy violations by the reporter of the incident. Any possible negative consequences for the reporter of the problem should be evaluated against the possible negative consequences for the student who needed intervention. At a minimum, Central hopes that a student or student organization would make an anonymous report that would put the student in need in touch with professional helpers.

Perhaps CWU’s policy could be a bit stronger, i.e., affirmatively state that students won’t get in trouble if they seek help, but the right spirit is clearly there. And let’s hope that reports of possible expulsion for the CWU students are inaccurate. After all, what good would it do to expel them? Education and counseling are exactly what these students - and their peers - need.

For all the other students out there, many colleges and universities already have Good Samaritan policies (which were the inspiration for Washington’s 911 Good Samaritan law). If your school doesn’t have one, you should visit Students for Sensible Drug Policy’s campaign webpage.    

Finally, since many of the students at the party were underage and drinking, perhaps it’s time for Washington to pass an alcohol Good Samaritan law. Colorado and New Jersey already have them. Such laws address the number one reason why people hesitate or fail to call 911: fear of police involvement.

For more information on Washington’s 911 Good Samaritan law, please visit http://StopOverdose.org