Lifeline law broadens scope 

By Alec Gray

The Indiana Lifeline law will expand to include reports of any medical situation or emergency instead of just alcohol or drug-related issues.

Senate Bill 227 adds new provisions to the Lifeline law that Sen. Jim Merritt, R-Indianapolis, believes will help save lives.

The law already gives immunity to callers under 21 years old who are looking for help for someone who has had too much to drink. The change - which takes effect July 1 - extends the law to other medical emergencies, such as when someone falls or has a concussion. It would also protect victims of a sexual assault or those who witness and report a crime from being charged with underage drinking.

"We don't want any roadblocks to calling 911," Merritt said.

The Lifeline law was created in Indiana to ensure that young people are not afraid to call 911 if someone's life is on the line.

Norman and Dawn Finbloom lost their son Brett to an alcohol related incident in 2012 and now spend their time going to schools talking about the importance of the good decision making and the Lifeline law.

"Brett caused his own death by his mistake to drink," Norman Finbloom said in a video of his speech to students at Bishop Chatard High School in Indianapolis. "However, if the kids were not afraid of getting into trouble, we just may have had a different outcome and Brett may be the one that would be here talking to you, telling you of his mistakes."

The changes occurred after Merritt spoke to young people on his tour last year around the state with Attorney General Greg Zoeller. Merritt said he learned that it was important to make the additions because sometimes a person calling 911 does not know if alcohol or drugs were consumed.

"Instead of being alcohol focused, the law has been changed to focus on those in need of medical attention," Merritt said. Zoeller also recommended wording in SB 227 to encourage law enforcement and emergency responders to carry a medication that counteracts the effects of a drug overdose called Naloxone, which Merritt called a "miracle drug."

During the 2014 session, some public safety agencies were reluctant to use Naloxone because of the fear that patients may be harmed by the medication or would be misdiagnosed. But if the patient is not actually suffering from an overdose, the Naloxone will not cause any harmful side effects, according to Bryan Corbin, the public information officer for the attorney general. The bill also lifts legal obstacles to first responders utilizing Naloxone to save patients' lives.

"It is up to individual police departments and fire departments of cities, towns and counties whether to order and purchase equipment such as Naloxone from their medical suppliers," Corbin said.

Merritt and Zoeller have been promoting the Lifeline law by traveling to colleges and high schools across the state since the law's creation in 2012 and will continue to do so. Some Indiana colleges like Ball State University are beginning to add the Lifeline law into their new student orientation programs.

According to Merritt, lives can be changed from one bad decision, so awareness is key.

"Unfortunately, binge drinking among young people - especially on college campuses - is rampant," he said. "We're making every effort to discourage underage drinking and alert our youth about the dangers of overconsumption, but there's always going to be a 17- or 18-year-old who makes a mistake. Our laws need to make it clear that when mistakes are made and lives are at risk, calling 911 is a no brainer."

Alec Gray is a reporter for TheStatehouseFile.com, a news service powered by Franklin College journalism students and faculty.

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