911 Good Samaritan bill could save lives

An Ohio legislator has proposed granting limited immunity for underage drinkers who call 911 for someone who needs medical help after having too much to drink.

“This bill will save lives,” said Michael Stinziano, who sponsored the legislation along with Cliff Rosenberger, R-Clarksville. “By expanding this Good Samaritan policy, young people will be encouraged to protect their peers in times of need for critical medical care.”

That may sound counterintuitive. But the experience at Denison University, which has a similar “911 Good Samaritan” policy, shows otherwise.

After the policy was adopted at Denison, the number of callers reporting alcohol overdoses increased significantly. Yet student surveys indicated the rate of drinking on campus hadn’t changed. What did change was students’ attitudes about calling for help when it is needed.

The behavior the bill is expected to change is to eliminate reluctancy to summon medical help for those suffering acute alcohol poisoning. Because students and other underage youths tend to drink in private, not where a bartender can cut them off if over-imbibing, this could save lives.

It’s not blanket amnesty for all involved. Under House Bill 392, prosecution for underage alcohol possession or consumption would be prohibited if law enforcement became aware of the offense solely because medical assistance had been sought, and if the person seeking help used his or her own name when calling 911.

Some institutions that have enacted the 911 Good Samaritan policy require students involved in the incident to get counseling for alcohol abuse. Plus, campus rules still apply.

But the proposal would remove disincentive for a youth to seek help for another who has had too much to drink.