San Francisco State University and the other 22 California State University campuses are rolling out a mobile app this coming semester to help combat alcohol poisoning-related deaths, it was announced Wednesday.
The app, available via the website AwareAwakeAlive.org, is compatible with any Internet-enabled cellphone or e-reader. The app asks in a bold red box, "Need Help Now? Click Here!" It then walks a student through identifying signs of alcohol poisoning, such as whether a person is unresponsive, unconscious, has odd breathing, is vomiting, or has pale or blue skin. Tapping any of those symptoms brings up a screen with a giant orange button that dials 911.
Joseph Greenwell, the dean of students at SFSU, said it's too early to tell exactly how the school will implement the technology.
The website also has educational materials and preplanned awareness events, all provided for free. There will be some costs to translate the materials into Spanish, said CSU spokesman Erik Fallis.
"It has a lot of strength in its peer-to-peer nature," he said. "It's friends recognizing in friends the signs of alcohol poisoning, to understand their obligations to stay and see the medical emergency is resolved."
Calling 911 in such situations might seem like common sense, but that's not always the case, said Julia Starkey, founder of the nonprofit Aware Awake Alive, which created the app.
Her son, Carson, died from alcohol poisoning during a fraternity hazing party at Cal Poly-San Luis Obispo. Students at the party did not take him to the hospital or call 911, instead leaving him to die on a mattress.
Schools nationwide have adopted the app and educational materials, but reaching the entire CSU system with its more than 450,000 students will save many more lives, Starkey said.
The announcement also comes on the heels of the death of 18-year-old SFSU student Peter Tran in April, whose body was discovered the morning after a fraternity party for pledges. No cause of death has been released, but it's believed that alcohol played a part.
"[Peter's] situation is similar to what happened to Carson," Julia Starkey said.
In the U.S., more than 80,000 deaths are attributed to binge drinking per year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And according to Aware Awake Alive, more than 2,000 college students die from alcohol poisoning each year, with that rate increasing steadily from 1990 to 2005.
The CSU system does not keep data on how many alcohol-related deaths occur on its 23 campuses annually, said Ray Murillo, the system's associate director of student programs.