Underage Drinking, Alcohol Poisoning and Legal Immunity

New legislation protects underage drinkers from prosecution if they call 911 with an alcohol-related emergency –

A party, alcohol, friends, and the looming worry of getting caught underage, drink in hand and nearly wasted.

It’s a scene not uncommon to teens but it can quickly become a nightmare when a friend has had too much. While those legally able to drink might immediately call for help, underage drinkers may either flee the scene or downplay the danger so not to risk a criminal record.

In some cases, opting not to risk the legal woes may lead to risking someone’s life.

In early August, Brett Finbloom, a teen from Carmel, Indiana, died from alcohol poisoning at a friend’s house. He was freshly graduated from high school and enrolled at the University of Oklahoma. Finbloom’s friends, both underage as well, called Image911, informing the operator that Finbloom did not have a pulse and was not breathing. However, Carmel police Lt. Jeff Horner told a local Indiana ABC affiliate that the friends were hesitant to provide detailed information regarding the proceeding events.

“I don’t know what was going through their heads at the time, I can only speculate, but I know that officers arrived and they were getting very limited information…Not a whole lot of information was given to them about what occurred and why he was in the condition that he was in,” said Horner to the local television station. The teens denied drinking alcohol at the home and told the 911 operator that Finbloom was intoxicated when he arrived.

While underage drinking is a regular discussion in schools, amongst parents and within the law enforcement and health care communities, its prevalence is still significant. Nearly 72 percent of teenagers have consumed alcohol by the end of high school, according to Students Against Destructive Decisions (SADD).

Where education and prevention are seemingly falling short in keeping alcohol out of underage hands, new legislation is being passed across the country to ensure that in cases where illegal drinking has resulted in a potentially life- threatening situation, underage drinkers do not hesitate to call for help.

The “Lifeline” law in Indiana, where Finbloom died, was designed to encourage those 21 and younger to call authorities immediately if someone is dangerously intoxicated. The caller would not be subject to arrest for public intoxication, illegal consumption, possession or transportation of alcohol. However, to receive immunity, the caller is required to remain at the scene of the incident until help arrives as well as fully cooperate with authorities.

Finbloom’s family has called for increased awareness of the “Lifeline” law in Indiana in hopes that others faced with the decision to call for help immediately or worry about the legal consequences will pick up the phone and dial 911.

Other states – including Colorado, Connecticut, New York and Florida – have similar laws in place. In states that do not, underage drinkers could be at risk of prosecution.

Still, the Star Press, an east central Indiana online news source, reported that “local authorities’ first priority would never be to pursue a misdemeanor alcohol-related charge against someone seeking medical attention for a friend whose life is at risk.”

While the legislation has been popular with parents and law enforcement, people opposed to alcohol immunity for those underage are concerned that it may appear authorities are “getting soft” on underage alcohol abuse.

Poison center experts recommend that at the first signs of alcohol poisoning, the Poison Help Line (1-800-222-1222) should be called. In the event that someone is unconscious, having seizures or not breathing, 9-1-1 should be dialed immediately.

What do you think? Comment below.

The American Association of Poison Control Centers supports the nation’s 57 poison centers in their efforts to prevent and treat poison exposures. Poison centers offer free, private, confidential medical advice 24 hours a day, seven days a week. We take calls in more than 150 languages and from the hearing impaired.

For questions about poison or if you think someone has been exposed to a poison, call 1-800-222-1222 to reach your local poison center. 

3 thoughts on “Underage Drinking, Alcohol Poisoning and Legal Immunity

  1. When I was 17 years old, my parents told me to call them if I happened to be drinking as opposed to getting in a car and killing myself and perhaps someone else. My mother said, “I may be mad a day or two but it’s better than hurting yourself or someone else.”

    The words “I may be mad” stuck with me, however. So, the first time I found myself drunk at a party (as an underage drinker), I got in the car and drove a short distance home. My parents were asleep. They didn’t know I’d been drinking and I didn’t tell them.

    The next time this happened, I was 18 and twice as drunk. This time, I feared (thankfully) taking the risk and called them. My dad came and picked me up. My friends were afraid to look at him or talk to him (they were underage as well). He didn’t condemn anyone and asked if anyone else needed a ride. Several did, but they had already made other arrangements.

    My mother was there waiting when we arrived home. To my astonishment, she smiled and was happy to see me in one piece! Nothing was said about the incident the next day.

    Let’s face it, teenagers don’t always think clearly because they don’t have the life experience under their belt to deal with crisis situations. I agree with legal immunity because it gives a young (possibly stupid) person a chance to make things right without ruining someone’s life in the process.

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