NARH sees increase in student alcohol poisonings

According to anecdotal sources, hospitalization of Williams students for alcohol poisoning has increased at North Adams Regional Hospital (NARH) over a time period that Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts (MCLA) reports show a marked decrease in incidents involving improper use of alcohol by its students.

Neither Williams College Health Service, Village Ambulance nor NARH keep statistics for the number of Williams or MCLA students bought to the emergency room for alcohol-related illness.

NARH emergency room nurse Billie Allard said, “Over the past five to ten years, there has been an increase in the amount we see students drinking. Students have been coming into NARH very sick. We have seen students who, had it not been for the vigilance of their friends, would have died.”

An MCLA dean reported that over the past three years, alcohol infractions have decreased 50 to 66 percent and are still falling.

He noted that the rate of hospitalization for alcohol poisoning incidents has also declined over the same period.

Three years ago, MCLA implemented, in accordance with U-Mass rules, a new alcohol policy under which any student under 21 who drinks or any student of age who creates a disturbance or procures alcohol for a minor has committed an infraction.

For the first infraction, a student must attend a workshop on alcohol, spend two weekends off-campus or doing community service, and have his parents notified.

After the second infraction, the penalty is increased to multiple weekends off campus or, if home is far enough away for this to create a hardship, performing community service. If there is a third infraction, the student will be expelled.

The Williams policy with respect to underage drinking, as outlined in the student handbook,emphasizes education over punishment.

Williams expects students not to abuse alcohol and to abide by governmental regulations.

There are a number of possible results of infractions: Security handling the matter without making a referral, Security making a referral to the health center, a direct referral to the health center or a direct referral to the dean’s office.

Director of Health Services Ruth Harrison noted that the number of students brought to the health center on account of alcohol consumption has held more or less steady over the past few years. This year, through January, 54 students have been to the health center for alcohol-related incidents.

During the last school year, through the same time, that number was 61.

Harrison outlined when a student is brought to the health center, and when a student is sent to the emergency room. “If a student is unconscious, we have security call 911 because the 10 or 15 minutes that bringing that student to the health center would take might prove fatal.

“If the student is conscious and brought to the health center we have specific criteria to use to decide whether or not to send the student to the emergency room. These criteria include blood pressure, the consumption of other drugs, the amount of alcohol consumed and the student’s

neurological responses. Often a student will come to the health center, then his or her condition may deteriorate and we’ll transfer him or her to the hospital.”

Once at the hospital, the student is likely to have his or her stomach pumped, in order to prevent the absorption of that alcohol into the bloodstream, Allard said. Often students who are intoxicated have fallen and need a CAT to determine of there has been any neurological damage.

According to Allard, in order for a CAT scan to be successful the patient must be still; however, because drunk students are often combative, it is often necessary to give students a drug that will temporarily paralyze them and, in order to keep the airway open when a student is paralyzed, it is necessary to insert tubes in the student.

If the student is underage, his or her parents will be notified by the hospital.

“I’m not idealistic enough to think that college students won’t drink, but I think that binge drinking is not acceptable,” Allard said.

“Students come in having drunk a bottle of vodka and I don’t think they realize the dangers associated with this kind of drinking.”

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