College binge drinking on ‘borgs’ leads to record visits to Cooley Dickinson Hospital


  • These trash bags were piled up in front of a garbage container at the Townhouse apartments. Most of the bags were full of the ingredients used to make “borgs,” or blackout rage gallons, including water jugs and empty alcohol containers. MADDIE FABIAN/FOR THE GAZETTE

Staff Writer
Wednesday, March 08, 2023

AMHERST — It’s the kind of record that a community doesn’t want to see their local hospital break, but that’s exactly what happened Saturday when alcohol consumption among college-age people contributed to a record number of ambulance arrivals over a 24-hour period at Cooley Dickinson Hospital in Northampton.

In that timeframe, 62 ambulances arrived at the hospital, a more than 20% increase from a previous record of 51 ambulance calls, spokeswoman Christina Trinchero said.

The hospital said 32 of those ambulances were related to pre-St. Patrick’s Day revelry by college-age people in Amherst, many of whom were participating in a binge drinking trend called borgs, or blackout rage gallons. The Amherst Fire Department and University of Massachusetts officials said many students were observed during the day carrying plastic gallon containers with a mix of alcohol, electrolytes and water. The trend has been depicted on TikTok, and UMass officials said this was the first time they identified it on the Amherst campus.

The day’s festivities didn’t cause significant property destruction or lead to many arrests in Amherst on Saturday morning and afternoon, as they have some years, but they did prompt the activation of a regional medical task force.

As police officers from Amherst and five other communities joined State Police and UMass Police in patrolling neighborhoods, along with the town’s Community Responders for Equity, Safety and Service, aiming to keep the peace in North Amherst, lower Main Street and other neighborhoods, the medical system came under strain during the unsanctioned event that participants call the Blarney Blowout.

“New this year, we saw a significant increase in medical calls, which is not always the case,” Town Manager Paul Bockelman said on Monday.

The Amherst Fire Department handled 38 EMS calls, 28 of which were alcohol related, with 25 of those individuals being transported to Cooley Dickinson.

Of those who came to the hospital, 46 patients were between the ages of 18 and 25, none of whom were admitted or transferred, and four of whom left on their own, while the remainder were discharged. Of the 46 patients in that age range, 35 came in between 11:35 a.m. and 5:30 p.m.

The incidents on the day that takes its name from a defunct bar promotion that began in the 1990s necessitated supplementing the four Amherst paramedic ambulances staffed, and two paramedic level fire engines and another fire engine, that were in service.

The towns that initially provided mutual aid were Northampton, Hadley, Belchertown, South Hadley and South County EMS. Then, a decision was made to summon help from the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency.

“At 1 p.m., with the volume of calls spiking, a regional EMS Task Force was requested through MEMA,” Bockelman said. “This resulted in a task force being sent to Amherst for coverage and those ambulances subsequently handled additional EMS calls.”

This led to responses by ambulances from Agawam, Chicopee, Longmeadow, Ludlow, West Springfield and Westfield.

What paramedics and EMTs saw in terms of those who needed medical treatment is being blamed on the ubiquitous gallon milk jugs or water jugs, or borgs.

“The big new thing were these gallon jugs filled with vodka, Gatorade or Pedialyte, and water. Everyone had them,” Bockelman said.

On sidewalks and in yards, almost every college-age person was holding a borg, with the liquid in bright colors such as red and blue. They were dressed in green, and, despite the cold, snowy weather, some wore only T-shirts, while others sported snow caps and jackets as they trudged through snow and mud.

Even with the medical calls, Saturday’s event was more subdued than the 2014 event that caused significant property destruction, led to dozens of arrests and forced UMass to commission the Edward Davis report. Since then, the university has enacted a ban on out-of-town guests and parking restrictions for the weekend, but activities such as a free concert have gone by the wayside.

Police maintained a highly visible presence at key locations on Saturday, Bockelman said. They also responded to 82 calls for service during the day, including medical assists, assaults, traffic collisions, noise disturbances and fights, Bockelman said.

The prevalence of the borgs prompted downtown resident Alex Kent to take a picture of one discarded at the corner of Amity and South Prospect streets. Kent sent this to Town Council and Bockelman in a letter calling it “a fitting emblem of yesterday’s horrors and a tribute to the two dozen young people who were transported to the hospital by ambulance for treatment of alcohol poisoning.”

“Yesterday, like so many other Amherst residents, we endured the noise, the littering, the wail of ambulance sirens, and the chaos of yet another ‘Blarney Blowout.’ I would like to request that, next year, the bars and liquor stores get shut down, at least for the day of this disgusting event. Students are clever, and they will surely figure out other ways to get their hooch. But the one-day closures might serve as a deterrent. The stores in Hadley should be asked to cooperate, as well.”

Kent said in addition, he is concerned as to whether the town will be responsible for the costs of the regional medical system, asking that question of his District 3 Councilor, Dorothy Pam.

Pam said she was alerted by both Kent and a Fearing Street resident to damage to trees and shrubs, and litter, though that she observed that by Saturday evening the town was subdued and that no noise could be heard from her home on Amity Street.