Wednesday, September 09, 2015

Nebraska law protects underage drinkers who call for medical help; other states have similar laws

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Youth Risk Behavior Survey for 2013 found that 66.2 percent of high school students reported that they had tried alcohol at least once and that 34.9 percent currently drink alcohol. The survey for 2010 found that 9.6 percent of rural high school students binge drink, compared to 8.5 percent of urban students. The 2013 National Survey on Drug use and Health reports that 11.3 percent of non-metro residents ages 12 to 20 say they drink alcohol.

The prevalence of rural underage drinking is a cause for concern. Lawmakers in Nebraska are hoping to curb rural underage drinking—or at least better treat those who have had too much to drink—with a law that went into effect Aug. 30 that offers immunity from charges such as minor-in-possession for those that "call for assistance for themselves or a friend who has had too much to drink," Erika Stewart-Finkenstaedt reports for the Omaha World-Herald. "Under the law, only those who stay at the scene and cooperate with law enforcement are protected. The immunity applies to any underage drinkers."

University of Nebraska-Lincoln students approached State Sen. Adam Morfeld, a Democrat who sponsored the bill, about the need for such a law, Stewart-Finkenstaedt writes. UNL student body president Thien Chau told Stewart-Finkenstaedt, “We need to accept the reality that drinking occurs in a college environment, and we need to educate on how to be safe, responsible and look out for one another."

Not everyone supports the law, Stewart-Finkenstaedt writes. Nicole Carritt, director of Project Extra Mile, which works to prevent underage drinking, said "the bill could have required education and counseling for the intoxicated person and the 911 caller before they obtained amnesty from prosecution." She told Stewart-Finkenstaedt, "We feel this proposed legislation sends unintended mixed messages to our youth about the state’s tolerance of underage drinking."

Similar laws—more than 28 other states and Washington, D.C., have such laws—have been successful, Stewart-Finkenstaedt writes. "A 2006 Cornell University report found that while 19 percent of college students thought about calling for help for someone who was intoxicated, only 4 percent actually did." But since 2002, when Cornell was granted medical amnesty to students, the college has seen a 176 percent increase in on-campus alcohol-related calls — from 63 to 174." (The Medical Amnesty Initiative map: For an interactive version, click here)

No comments: