Proposed bill would grant underage drinkers amnesty in emergencies

GVL Archive
Officer Craig A. Zoulek administers a PBT.

GVL Archives

GVL Archive Officer Craig A. Zoulek administers a PBT.

Samantha Butcher

The responsibility to call 911 when someone shows signs of alcohol poisoning seems obvious, but when one or more of the people involved have been drinking underage, the situation is far from black and white.

For many students, the possibility of receiving a minor-in-possession charge is a deterrent that can delay or even completely stop them from seeking help during alcohol-related medical emergencies.

However, legislation that entered the Michigan House last month would remove the fear of consequences from the situation.

At Grand Valley State University, minors who call for assistance from the Grand Valley Police Department while inebriated do not receive minor-in-possession charges or face legal action, said Sgt. Craig Zoulek. “It’s an unwritten policy that we follow, but if people call for help on campus, whether it be an alcohol incident or narcotics, we don’t cite the parties involved,” he said.

While students do not face MIPs or other legal action while on GVSU’s Allendale or Pew campuses, that “unwritten policy” is not necessarily in place when GVPD or the Ottawa County Sheriff’s Department responds to off-campus incidents, Zoulek said.

House Bill 4393 would grant immunity from MIPs to minors in three cases: the minor seeks medical treatment for himself or herself while intoxicated, the minor accompanies someone else seeking medical treatment or the minor contacts a police officer or emergency dispatcher to obtain medical assistance for themselves or others. The bill was originally
introduced to the Judiciary Committee on March 8, 2011, and was passed to the House on Jan. 24.

“The problem of underage drinking is one that is prevalent on our college campuses and through the communities,” said state Rep. Anthony Forlini (R — Harrison Twp.), who introduced the bill, in a press release. “Dangerous situations can occur when a minor drinks too much. Students put their classmates in danger because nobody wants to call for help because they fear a minor in possession charge.”

According to data from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, approximately 5,000 minors in the U.S. die while under the influence of alcohol. That number includes vehicular deaths, homicides, suicides and accidental deaths.

Zoulek said while students do not face legal consequences if they call GVPD, the cases may be handled through the Dean’s office, where students could face consequences in the academic judiciary process or mandated participation in Alcohol Campus Education (ACES) programs.

“We don’t want to discourage people from calling for help in a very serious situation, and the fear of getting in trouble can do that, so we try to get rid of that,” Zoulek said.

Signs of alcohol poisoning include blue-tinged or pale skin, low body temperature, uncontrolled vomiting, hypothermia, seizures and unconsciousness. Irregular breathing, with a gap or more than 10 seconds between breaths, or slow breathing, with less than eight breaths per minute, are also warning signs.

If someone is unconscious, breathing slowly or vomitting uncontrollably, call 911 or local emergency services like GVPD immediately. If the person is conscious but still shows signs of alcohol poisoning, call 800-222-1222 to be routed to the local poison control center. Someone who is unconscious or has “passed out” should never be left alone or left to sleep it off, as alcohol continues to be released into the blood stream after the person has stopped drinking, causing their blood-alcohol level to continue to rise.

To contact GVPD, call 616-331-3255.

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