The Mistaken Idea That a Backpack Can Save a Drunk College Student’s Life

In the final hours of his life, Tim Piazza lay on a couch in a Penn State frat house, barely conscious and occasionally vomiting from alcohol poisoning and serious internal injuries. Twice on a night of heavy drinking, frat brothers — apparently oblivious to his injuries — strapped a backpack on the very ill young man. Piazza died a day later at a medical center. In another death on a Pennsylvania college campus, dorm mates of freshman McCrae Williams put a backpack on the intoxicated young man as he lay in his bed. The college kids in both instances put backpacks on their dying friends in the hope of preventing them from turning onto their backs and asphyxiating in their vomit. There's even a term for it now in college circles: "JanSporting," named after the popular brand of backpack used by high school and college students. Students may think they’re doing the right thing, but the medical community disagrees. First, an overly intoxicated person should never be left alone, regardless of what position they’re put in. According to Dr. Ralph Riviello of Drexel University’s Department of Emergency Medicine, "While the backpack theoretically can prevent someone from rolling onto their back, aspiration can occur in other positions, and the degree of intoxication and responsiveness are the biggest determinants of aspiration.” He went on to explain that if a friend is so drunk that unconscious vomiting is a concern, calling 911 is the right and immediate thing to do. A common misconception among young people, particularly underage college students, is that going to an emergency room for intoxication will lead to ramifications with their college administrators. However, details of their hospital trip are protected by HIPAA, so there should be no concerns about seeking medical help.