⋅Today’s College Campus: a Culture of Binge Drinking, Sexual Assault, and Death⋅
We got the call from a national fraternity house at a large university in Florida on a Monday morning after a big home game and the traditional pre-game house bash. The cleanup was bigger and more lethal than the usual pre-game cleanups, which once or twice required a front loader to haul off the mountains of garbage on the lawn. This cleanup required crime-scene technicians wearing Tyvek suits and ventilated respirators—and a van marked “Medical Examiner.”
In the entry way of the fraternity house was a large pool of smeared blood with broken pieces of wood scattered in and around it.
My partner glanced up to the balcony above and pointed at a broken railing. Someone clearly had been pushed or fell, explaining the pool of blood. Then we were led upstairs to a room whose bed sheets and carpet were soaked in urine and vomit.
Outside, the medical examiner’s van was leaving with the broken, dead body of a 17-year-old girl whose blood we were about to clean up.
Her name was JJ. She was an outgoing, talented freshman. She was majoring in music performance and had been at the university less than a month.
She got so drunk at the house bash that she fell through the second-story railing to the marble entryway below. The fall killed her. We don’t know who threw up and peed all over the bedroom. We were all drunk. This is the story police were told.
The coroner’s report told a very different story.
JJ was indeed intoxicated. Her BAC (blood-alcohol concentration) at .37 was high enough that surgery could have been performed without anesthesia.
The concentration of alcohol in JJ’s blood was lethal. She could not have stood up by herself. She was in a profound state of unconsciousness, possibly comatose, when she died.
And her smashed skull was a post-mortem wound, meaning it happened after she was already dead.
The autopsy revealed that she died of asphyxiation secondary to pulmonary aspiration caused by acute alcohol poisoning. She inhaled and smothered in her own vomit. There was also evidence of sexual assault by multiple individuals.
After a grueling investigation, the truth emerged. JJ passed out in one of the bedrooms after drinking heavily and was assaulted and raped by five fraternity brothers who were also drunk. Lab tests revealed that most of the bodily fluids in the bedroom we cleaned were hers. After DNA tests revealed the identities of her attackers, they claimed the sex was consensual. A sixth brother, however, had videotaped the sexual assault, had a crisis of conscience, and turned the tape over to police in exchange for immunity.
JJ died in the bed where she vomited and urinated, and the band of assaulters panicked and shoved her body over the railing, smashing it in the process, in an attempt to hide the assault.
Like many colleges, this college did little or nothing to curb its widespread “tradition” of student binge drinking until a tragedy occurred.
Many parents, college administrators, and alumni who financially support the college ask why binge drinking is such a big deal.
We all drank in college, didn’t we? Consider the following sobering and startling statistics:
- Death: more than 1,800 college students die every year in alcohol-related incidents.
- Sexual Assault: every year, 100,000 college women suffer an alcohol-influenced sexual assault. In the vast majority of reported cases of sexual assault, the victim was too intoxicated to give or to deny consent. Study after study has shown that sexual assault is far more common on college campuses with high rates of binge drinking.
- Sexually Transmitted Disease and Unintended Pregnancy: an intoxicated person is more likely to engage in unprotected sex or indiscriminate sex with a person about whom they know very little.
- Injury: More than 500,000 college students each year are injured while they are drunk. An additional 600,000 are injured by a student who has been drinking.
- Impaired Driving: Binge drinkers are 14 times more likely to report driving drunk than non-binge drinkers.
You Can Help Make A Difference
Talk to your kids about drinking and learn the facts about alcohol poisoning and its signs. Always call 911 if you suspect alcohol poisoning and remember that both young teens and older adults are more prone to its effects due to the way their bodies process alcohol; it may take far less alcohol than you might think dangerous for them to suffer from alcohol poisoning.
Binge Drinking and Alcohol Poisoning – Get The Facts
- Alcohol Poisoning is an emergency and requires immediate medical attention. Call 911 right away if you suspect an individual is suffering from alcohol poisoning, even if you think you may be overreacting or that they (or you) might get in trouble. It’s better to embarrass a friend or loved one than to bury them.
- Alcohol Poisoning is a serious and sometimes deadly result of having consumed large volumes of alcohol in a short time period, as is the case with binge drinking.
- It affects various bodily and brain functions including, but not limited to, breathing, heart rate, gag reflex, body temperature, and the ability to remain conscious.
- It can lead to brain damage, coma and death if left untreated or if treatment is delayed.
- It depresses nerves controlling involuntary actions like breathing and the gag reflex. Breathing and heart beat can slow, become irregular and even stop completely as the Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) increases.
- BAC can continue to rise even when an individual is passed out. It is dangerous to allow a severely intoxicated individual sleep it off.
- It often causes vomiting since alcohol is an irritant to the stomach; in combination with a depressed gag reflex and breathing, individuals suffering the effects of alcohol poisoning can literally drown in their own vomit.
- Do not wait for all the signs or symptoms to be present before calling for help. Even if the individual is showing one or two signs, call 911 without delay. It could save their life.
- A good acronym to remember is MUST HELP. If an individual is showing any of these symptoms, get help immediately!
- M – Mental Confusion: May include being unaware of where they are, or acting in a stupor – being apparently awake but unable to respond.
- U – Unresponsive: Cannot be awakened, or are unresponsive to your voice, shaking or pinching their skin, even if their eyes are open.
- S – Snoring/Gasping: Many may find the snoring or gasping of a friend passed out from drinking to be funny, but it is actually a warning sign that their breathing may be depressed and should be taken very seriously.
- T – Throwing Up: Vomiting while asleep or unconscious, especially if they do not wake up while vomiting. Always turn individuals on their side to prevent them inhaling their vomit.
- H – Hypothermia: Skin is cold, clammy, pale, bluish, and/or blotchy.
- E – Erratic Breathing: Breathing is slow, less than 9 breaths each minute, or there are lapses of 10 seconds or more between breaths.
- L – Loss of Consciousness: If the person feints, passes out or falls asleep and cannot be roused, be sure to gently turn them on their side in case they vomit, and call 911 immediately. Do not leave them alone.
- P – Paleness/Blueness of Skin: Lips, face or nails become blue tinged, or the individual appears pale.
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