OXFORD, Ohio – Oxford Police Sgt. Jon Varley says he has never seen the drinking problem at Miami University so bad after 21 students had to be hospitalized for alcohol last weekend.
Now Varley and the mayor are calling on Miami to take action.
Not only are students getting drunker than Varley has seen in his two decades on the job in Oxford, the sergeant said they’re taxing the resources of the city's emergency responders.
Varley said the crush of drunken students filled the hospital emergency room to capacity last weekend and nearly forced it to turn away other patients.
"What I have seen in my time here is that the number of these highly intoxicated cases has increased and their BAC (blood alcohol content) numbers, the amount of alcohol that they consume, has gone way up,” Varley told WCPO on Tuesday. “It is past social drinking.
"It becomes concerning to us that so many people are getting to that level of intoxication that they need help."
Varley said the number of alcohol related incidents at Miami is causing an impact on police, fire and EMS.
“This past weekend, we had three life squads out and we still had to call for help," he said. "This is spreading our resources very thin.
"So it impacts the entire city if you let this happen."
Mayor Kate Rousmaniere said it’s also becoming a financial problem for the city.
“It costs a lot for the EMS and police and fire squads to deal with these issues, but it's also a real human problem that we are worried about, too," she said.
The emergency calls for Miami students between Thursday evening and Sunday morning coincided with the end of the sorority rush season. A statement from Miami called the spike in hospitalizations last weekend "alarming."
"We actually got through the entire bid period without any problems so this was the first night that students were kind of on their own again and free to do what they wanted to do," said Jayne Brownell, Miami Vice President of Student Affairs.
Of the 21 students hospitalized, 17 are female and all but two are underage. It is not clear how many of them were part of Greek organizations on campus.
Those students apparently ignored the danger of overdrinking even after a Miami student, Erica Buschick, was found dead in her Morris Hall dorm room Jan. 20. A police report confirmed via interviews with Buschick's friends that she had been drinking heavily the night before her death.
The official cause of death is still pending toxicology, but Miami President Greg Crawford wrote in a statement that police reports suggest "that alcohol contributed to this tragedy."
"High-risk alcohol consumption among college students is of concern to every university president and I am determined and committed to doing all that we can to help ensure the well-being of all of our students," Crawford wrote.
Varley says a culture change is needed.
"It’s going to have to be a grassroots change and the change of the culture of Miami,” he said.
Rousmaniere said repeated attempts to solve the problem have been frustrating.
“Every time you think you have a solution, it falls through your fingers again," the mayor said.
Miami has a number of programs in place to combat dangerous drinking, including mandatory online courses on alcohol. But Panhellic President Annie Weidner acknowledged more is needed.
“Where we thought we were educating them and providing awareness for things, there is certainly room for improvement there,” Weidner said.
Last year several fraternities were suspended because of hazing and other alcohol-related incidents. One fraternity was suspended until May of 2019.
WCPO asked Miami about concerns that student drinking is having effects far beyond campus. It released a statement that made several points.
For one thing, it said the school's Alcohol Coordinating Committee has worked to stop the sale of alcohol to minors. The committee includes people from a wide section of Oxford including police, retailers and McCullough-Hyde Memorial Hospital.
Miami said it also started printing each student's birthdate on university I.D. cards.