Can Medical Amnesty Bring Sense to Underage Drinking Debate?

More college students are dying from drinking, but amnesty could be the answer.

ByABC News
July 16, 2009, 8:45 AM

July 17, 2009— -- Set foot onto any college campus, and you'll probably find underage drinking on any given night.

But the debate over college drinking is heating up again over the advantages and disadvantages of "medical amnesty" policies to encourage students who abuse drugs and alcohol to seek potentially life-saving medical treatment without the worry of disciplinary action from the school's administration.

For the past 20 years, the United States has maintained the legal drinking age of 21 with little debate over the justification of this policy. In April 2009, more than 100 college and university presidents signed the Amethyst Initiative, a public statement calling for "an informed and dispassionate public debate over the effects of the 21-year-old drinking age."

Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill., is not one of the schools that signed the letter.

In spring 2008, freshman and New York native Matthew Sunshine, 19, was finally getting adjusted to college life, having found a steady group of friends and a social life filled with typical college parties and football game tailgates.

Some friends said he had a habit of drinking more than others. But they said he could control his drinking so that he could still walk people back to their dorms.

Sunshine died June 10, 2008 from alcohol poisoning after attending a party in his on-campus dorm. A student discovered him unresponsive the next morning with a blood alcohol level of 0.396 -- more than four times the legal limit for driving.

Sunshine's father told "The Daily Northwestern" that students pressured his son to drink, drew pornographic images on his face and took pictures for the Internet.