An annual early St. Patrick’s Day celebration by college students Saturday led to 28 people taken to area hospitals for alcohol intoxication following a day of binge drinking at off-campus parties, according to officials from UMass Amherst and the town of Amherst.
Ambulance crews from Amherst’s Fire Department, along with emergency crews from 11 other communities, responded to 33 calls for medical assistance, according to Paul Bockelman, the Amherst town manager.
None of the cases were life-threatening, officials said.
Two people were arrested by university police for underage possession of alcohol.
The annual “Blarney Blowout” celebrations traditionally held before St. Patrick’s Day can draw thousands to Amherst for off-campus parties before spring break, which starts on March 12 this year. The raucous day of drinking has drawn national attention in past years. In 2014, dozens were arrested during clashes with police in riot gear.
On Saturday, thousands were celebrating in Amherst, and local officials believe they came from schools all over New England, Bockelman said. Amherst police responded to 82 calls for service, including medical assistance, assaults, traffic collisions, noise disturbances, and fights, he said.
“It seems to have become a destination event,” Bockelman said.
And the sheer number of medical calls on Saturday was far above normal, officials said Saturday.
“It’s significantly higher than in the past for medical demands,” Bockelman said in a phone interview. “It certainly put a stress on emergency services throughout the region.”
The medical response also had strong impacts on local hospitals, including Cooley Dickinson Hospital in Northampton. On Saturday afternoon, the hospital was treating about 25 patients, according to Michael Morrison, a spokesperson for Mass General Brigham.
Morrison said the response created “significant impacts to operations” at the hospital Saturday.
In the years since the violence of the 2014 celebrations, the town and the university have taken steps to keep the parties from spinning out of control, including tighter parking rules and stricter guest policies. Several bars in town have also volunteered to open later in the day to discourage early drinking.
The Blarney Blowout celebration faded somewhat during the pandemic, according to Bockelman. “But it came back this year with a vengeance,” he said.
Officials from both the town and the university said a major contributor to the emergency calls Saturday were “borgs” — typically gallon milk jugs containing a homemade mix of alcohol, water, and some electrolytes.
The borgs — an acronym for “blackout rage gallon” — have emerged as a new trend on college campuses and have been popularized on Tik Tok and other social media platforms.
Borgs are popular among students because the drinks are in a sealed container. Substance abuse experts have warned about concoctions that could contain as many as 16 shots of alcohol, according to the news site Inside Higher Ed.
“If someone is having 16 drinks in one sitting, even if it’s mixed with water, that still counts as high-intensity or extreme drinking,” Ashley Linden-Carmichael, an associate research professor at Penn State University’s Edna Bennett Pierce Prevention Research Center, told the news site.
UMass Amherst said in a statement that all incoming students are required to participate in alcohol education, which includes topics like the medical risks of binge drinking. Officials are reexamining how to address the issues around alcohol use in the wake of the high number of cases of alcohol intoxication.
“They will assess this weekend’s developments and consider steps to improve alcohol education and intervention, and communicate with students and families,” the statement said.
Bockelman said local officials believe the number of students drinking from the borgs led to the increased number of calls for medical assistance.
“The difference here was the number of intoxicated individuals,” Bockelman said. “Our evidence initially [for this] is due to the drinking with the borgs.”
John Hilliard can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.