Despite efforts to steer teens clear of alcohol and binge drinking, an alarming number of youth are still being hospitalized for alcohol poisoning in Ohio.
Too many are dying. In 2012, there were 156 alcohol-attributed deaths involving those under the age of 21.
But deaths and hospitalizations could be reduced if the Ohio Legislature approves House Bill 392 this year.
Introduced last month and now in committee, it offers immunity from certain alcohol-related offenses for young “good Samaritans” who seek medical help for those who are dangerously intoxicated.
The bill would expand protections to those younger than 21, preventing them from being prosecuted for underage drinking in certain situations.
Ohio lawmakers aren’t exactly breaking new ground by exploring a medical amnesty policy. Nineteen states have enacted laws providing limited criminal immunity to those who seek emergency medical assistance for someone experiencing a drug or alcohol overdose.
According to Students for Sensible Drug Policy, there are also more than 240 colleges and universities with some form of a 911 good Samaritan policy on the books, including several in Ohio.
More than half cover situations involving all substances, the rest cover only alcohol.
House Bill 392 would only address alcohol overdoses, but a proposal which would offer similar immunities in drug situations, House Bill 363, is also pending in the Legislature.
Lawmakers should give both strong consideration. Both would save lives.
Research and surveys have shown it’s not unusual for teens to be afraid to contact or alert authorities or call for medical help, especially when they have been drinking, due to the legal ramifications.
But delays in calling for assistance can lead to needless deaths and injuries.
Some might be concerned that House Bill 392 will contribute to bad behavior in young people by forgiving drinking offenses.
It’s true the problem of underage drinking and binge drinking won’t go away if House Bill 392 is approved.
Some youth will always ignore alcohol warnings and disregard prevention efforts. But the safety and security of teenagers should trump prosecution of someone who is trying to help another in a life-or-death situation.
Passing House Bill 392 and making all youth aware of what the law means, would help ensure better results in situations which, all too often, end tragically.