The law grants immunity to underage drinkers seeking medical attention for alcohol-related emergencies
By MANDI STEFFEY, Staff Writer
CECELIA ROEDER, Design Editor
Indiana lawmakers passed a law in 2012 that could potentially save the lives of college-aged students.
This law, known as the Indiana Lifeline Law, was put in place as a resource for people under the age of 21 to seek medical attention involving any alcohol consumption-related emergency while receiving immunity from arrest and/or prosecution.
“This semester, there was a student down in Bloomington who got drunk, was left and died,” said Laura Hieronymous, a clinical nursing faculty member and the director of the Health and Wellness Center. “There is now a law that if a person is in trouble…overuse of alcohol or overdose, if the person calls for help, they won’t be arrested.”
According to Indiana Senate Enrolled Act No. 274, the law requires that an individual who should seek this help abide by a few rules to receive immunity. The person(s) seeking help must provide his or her full name to law enforcement officials. The person requesting medical assistance must remain at the site where they requested help until emergency medical assistance and police arrive. The person must cooperate to the best of his or her ability in these ways to be able to receive medical assistance without the fear of prosecution.
Before this law, those under the age of 21 may have called emergency medical assistance less often for fear of being charged with an offense like minor in possession or minor in consumption.
This law is aimed at the younger half of college-aged students. IUSB health officials and police welcome the new law in light of what has happened IU Bloomington’s campus. While there have been no student deaths related to alcohol on IUSB’s campus, they say the law is a step in the right direction when it comes to saving lives.
“It’s an important idea to get out there,” Hieronymous said. “The recommended [drinking amount] for females is one 12 ounce beer every hour. For males, two beers an hour. Unfortunately, this isn’t how kids drink. They binge, and it kills them.”
“Unfortunately, at IU Bloomington, the girl that sustained a fall at a party and died could have been helped if she or someone else called 911in accordance with the law,” said IUPD Police Chief Martin Gersey.
Many news sources are agreeing with Gersey. According to numerous central Indiana television news stations and newspapers, the girl who died in August, Rachael Fiege, could have taken advantage of the law before it was too late.
The news sources report that Fiege died from injuries after falling down the stairs at a party. According to WTHR, witnesses said that after Fiege fell down the flight of stairs, people at the party didn’t call 911 for at least six hours. She died the morning after the party at the hospital.
“That situation is what this law should prevent,” said Gersey. “It’s designed to look out for the safety of individuals with an alcohol-related medical problem.”
With fall football tailgating in full swing already this year, South Bend might not be the easiest city for minors to avoid the pressure to binge drink. IUSB police and other law enforcement officials are required to know, learn and enforce, which means no person should hesitate to make an emergency call if they or someone they know has had too much to drink for fear of prosecution.
“Minors should make a call if they witness someone so inebriated that they need some kind of medical assistance,” he said. “They shouldn’t be afraid of law enforcement at that point.”
“We don’t want anyone else to lose their lives because they were scared to call someone,” he added. “The situation in Bloomington—this law can prevent things like that.”
Amy Frazier, student nurse, also recognizes importance in the law.
“Drinking lowers the threshold for your thoughts,” Frazier said. “It opens you up to all sorts of risky behaviors, illegal drug use. [Binge drinking] opens you up to bad things.”
Behaviors that can be induced by drinking, as well as binge drinking, can be deadly, as Hieronymous pointed out.
According to IndianaLifeline.org and the Department of Health, more than two dozen Indiana citizens under the age of 21 have died due to alcohol poisoning since 2004. While awareness of the law is still growing, those who know about and enforce it seem to be in agreement.
“Anything to keep people safe is important,” said Gersey.
For more information on the law, visit IndianaLifeline.org.