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Attorney general, state senator promote Lifeline Law at DPU

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller (left) and state senator Jim Merritt speak at DePauw about the new Lifeline Law that took effect on July 1.
(Banner Graphic/GRANT WIEMAN)
Because binge drinking by underage people creates unsafe and medically hazardous situations, Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller and State Senator Jim Merritt visited DePauw University on Wednesday to remind the students that the new Indiana Lifeline Law protects young people from arrest if they seek help for an

alcohol-related medical emergency.

"Although college students proposed this bill and the legislature passed it without opposition, some young people are unaware that the Indiana Lifeline Law is now in force and exists to encourage medical intervention if they make mistakes with alcohol," Zoeller stated. "By raising public awareness that the Lifeline Law protects them, we hope that young people will no be reluctant to call 911 -- and will instead seek medical help for impaired friend and not look the other way."

DePauw was one of many campuses at which Zoeller and Merritt have spoken, including Purdue University and, as Zoeller jokingly called it, "a college not to be mentioned," DPU rival Wabash College, on Wednesday.

Merritt said they were making the trip not only to speak about the importance of effective student leadership, but also encourage others to step up continue spreading the word about the law.

The law states that a person who makes an emergency phone call to police, stays with the victim until police arrive and then cooperates will have an opportunity to prove they qualify for immunity from prosecution for public intoxication, minor possession and minor consumption of alcohol.

"We don't want to incentivize the underage consumption of alcohol ... by no means are we condoning that," Merritt said. "There is a different legal jargon to it, but the bottom line is (if underage kids help) they won't get in trouble."

The law passed legislature in March and took effect on July 1.

Merritt said that due to anonymity in such cases it is unclear how many people have potentially been victims of alcohol poisoning since then and been saved by the law, just that "I hope that goes down."

He said between 12 and 36 college students have died from alcohol poisoning in the recent past.

"You get into a situation where people are going to get in trouble and panic ensues," Merrit said. "Many of these deaths could have been prevented if bystanders or actual friends sought medical attention immediately for the victims.

"Indiana's Lifeline Law encourages students to do just that -- make the call to save a life."

Eleven other states have enacted similar laws to provide partial immunity to underage people that call in an emergency.

There is no immunity for someone 21-years or older, as providing for a minor is not covered.

There is also no such law in Indiana to protect someone from calling in a drug overdose. Lifeline applies only to alcohol.

Zoeller said it is unlikely any drug-related law will come about, but that judges have discretion on sentencing for that very reason. A judge may be more lenient on someone who helps an overdose victim, he said.

Angie Nally, director of public safety at DePauw, said the university has already had a similar policy for some time.

"We have had many occasions where kids have called for the welfare of their friends and we have not had a situation where they should have and didn't," Nally said. "I need to knock on wood."

Nally said DePauw police are called weekly about a potential overdose.

"I'd rather have a lot of runs to the hospital than one that requires it and doesn't go," she added.

With the Monon Bell Classic taking place at Wabash this past weekend, Nally said she made it known to students that although they weren't on the DPU campus the state law was in effect and they should feel safe in making an emergency call.

Nally also said DePauw's concern is for the students health and in situations involving an overdose of narcotics and other substances, leniency is also considered.

Merritt said he is encouraging universities to include information about the law in freshman orientation programs, which DePauw has also been doing for some time.

With the passage of the Lifeline Law, DPU students -- and local high school students facing alcohol-poisoning situations -- are now more likely to save a life.

Immunity does not apply to the victim, but Merritt said he doesn't expect that to be an issue.

"You would rather have that person alive and legally at risk than dead," he said.

For more information on the law, visit IndianaLifeline.org.

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