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Editorial: Lifeline law only useful if employed

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Recently, Johnson County sheriff’s deputies busted an underage drinking party in the Center Grove area. Lt. Matt Rhinehart found a teen on the floor in the basement in front of a sectional couch.

The teen didn’t answer when Rhinehart called to him and didn’t move or make any noises when he was nudged. Rhinehart checked to make sure the teen was still breathing and immediately called for an ambulance.

The teen had passed out, was stable and not in life-threatening danger from alcohol poisoning. But being unconscious for any reason is an emergency and anyone who is heavily intoxicated is at risk of choking on their own vomit while unconscious, White River Township Fire Chief Jeremy Pell said.

No one was likely looking after the teen, especially because only two people at the party knew him but weren’t sure how to spell his name, Rhinehart said.

The teenager in this incident was rushed to a nearby hospital, but he likely wouldn’t have received any medical treatment if police hadn’t raided the underage party where he was drinking.

State lawmakers want to prevent similar situations in which a person doesn’t get needed medical care. Legislators changed a law this year that keeps people from getting in trouble if they’re trying to get medical help for a friend who drank too much or overdosed on drugs.

The state lifeline law prevents police from arresting someone younger than 21 who had been drinking if they called an ambulance for someone who needed medical care. The goal was to encourage people to call an ambulance for a sick friend and not worry if they’re going to get arrested.

Legislators expanded the type of situations where the caller and other people with them won’t be prosecuted. The new law also would provide immunity for an underage person who had been drinking but was the victim of a sexual assault or if they witnessed and reported a crime. People convicted of drug crimes also could receive shorter sentences if they were arrested after they called for medical help for another person.

If Gov. Mike Pence signs it, the new law will go into effect July 1.

The goal is to encourage more people to report medical emergencies or crimes immediately without having to fear they’ll be arrested for drinking or doing drugs, according to Sen. Jim Merritt, R-Indianapolis, who authored the changes.

The new law also will allow police officers, firefighters or other emergency responders to carry overdose intervention drugs, which can rapidly stop the effects of opiates such as heroin. That drug has been available on ambulances and in hospitals for decades, but allowing more people to carry it could potentially save more lives, Merritt said.

The original law, which Merritt authored and took effect in July 2012, only covered medical emergencies due to alcohol.

“The essence of this law is that mistakes shouldn’t end your life and shouldn’t follow you forever,” Merritt said.

We commend legislators for passing this lifesaving measure. But the law will work only if people use it.

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