Treatment and transport for student drug or alcohol overdoses may cost thousands

Colt Sweetland, News Editor

During Wildcat Welcome Weekend, four Central students overdosed from either drugs or alcohol, and each student was transported to the hospital.

According to Rich Elliott, Kittitas Valley Fire and Rescue (KVFR) deputy chief, students need to understand that there is a cost to the KVFR system if a student needs medical attention.

“If you get transported to the hospital, you are going to pay an ambulance bill,” Elliott said. “The insurance company may or may not cover the fee of an alcohol or drug related call.”

Elliott said students need to be cognizant of the costs associated with transportation to the hospital, and the costs accrued from medical treatment.

“An emergency room visit is roughly $3,000,” Elliott said. “You may or may not be responsible for all of that or part of that, but it is a significant issue.”

The fee for the ambulance ride begins at around $500 and raises depending on how far the patient is transported and the services that are needed during the transportation.

“You’re looking at about $3000-$4000 if you end up in the emergency room for an alcohol or drug-related overdose,” Elliott said.

Two years ago, KVFR considered charging a fee for every visit the department made to an illegal alcohol or drug overdose call, but decided against it, according to Elliott.

Every call has a direct cost to the fire department, which basically means the taxpayers. What we were concerned about was, we don’t want to have people not call when it is a true emergency.

— Rich Elliott, Kittitas Valley and Fire Rescue deputy chief

Elliott said KVFR worked with Central police, Student Housing and Ellensburg police to help better determine when the person needs serious medical attention or when KVFR is not needed to respond to the call.

“If we are going out to somebody who just drank three beers and is not impaired to the point where they may hurt themselves, we do not need to go out,” Elliott said. “Every time we respond, we decrease our ability to respond to the next call.”

According to Elliott, new students at Central need to understand their medical insurance and the costs associated with transportation to the hospital, and parents need to know that if their sons or daughters are 18 or older, the information of the incident can not be shared with parents.

“It automatically puts us into a weird situation,” Elliott said. “We can confirm that we responded, that we transported, but we cannot tell [parents] why.”

The main points Elliott wanted students to understand is that the medical response and transport system is fee-driven; KVFR will not transport students against their will, unless students meet a certain threshold medically in which they cannot take care of themselves, then KVFR has the legal right to put the student in custody and transport them to the hospital.

“It does have a cost, it is expensive and it is dangerous; people have to make their own choices and need to be responsible about it,” Elliott said.

Captain Jason Berthon-Koch, with Central police, said if students choose to drink, they should do so moderately.

“Don’t drink from cups that you don’t know what is in it,” Berthon-Koch said.

After the first offense of a minor in possession citation, students are charged through a diversion program.