marion county commission on youth logoThis article is made possible by a partnership with the Marion County Commission on Youth. Indy with Kids is proud to support the work of MCCOY and help communicate information that is important for the youth of our community.

Written by Jacie Farris

Too much, too fast. That is the essence of binge drinking.

According to the Indiana Youth Services Association (IYSA), most alcohol-related deaths among teens are not caused by driving while under the influence, but by falls, homicides, suicides and alcohol poisoning.

In preparation for spring break, make sure the youth in your life, from children to college-aged, know about Indiana’s Lifeline Law.

Created in 2012 and amended in 2014, the Lifeline Law gives immunity from arrest and prosecution to underage drinkers who need medical assistance for themselves or others. The law also provides immunity for teens who are witnesses to or victims of a crime and need to call 911 for help.

The impact of this law is literally life and death. Imagine a teenager who has chosen, through bullying, peer pressure, or curiosity, to engage in drinking. Unsupervised, this individual, or one of his or her peers, may end up drinking too much too fast or injuring themselves in some way.

In this situation, many teens might not call emergency personnel for help, fearing they could face serious consequences for underage drinking. Indiana’s Lifeline Law allows them to ask for the help they need without fear of direct punishment.

With the law already in place, the major task at hand is making sure families and youth are aware of it.

David Westenberger, CEO of IYSA, has made it a mission to spread the word about the Lifeline Law. Westenberger travels to schools and universities around Indiana letting students know about the importance of calling for help. Joining him are Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller, Indiana State Senator Jim Merritt (author of the legislation), and other guests speakers. Their program is aptly named the Make Good Decisions Initiative.

“We’re here to make sure people know about [the Lifeline Law],” said Westenberger, adding, “We’ve been to pretty much every college in the state.”

One of the guest speakers is Dawn Finbloom, whose son Brett passed away in 2012 from alcohol poisoning. If Brett’s friends had been aware of the Lifeline Law, Brett’s life might have been saved. For more of Dawn and Brett’s story, click here.

In 2015, Finbloom, Merritt and Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Officer Christopher Wilburn appeared on MCCOY’s “Our Kids, Our Families, Our Communities” YouTube show to discuss youth drinking.

In the video, Finbloom encouraged alcohol education for youth, noting that she wished she had talked more to her son not only about avoiding alcohol, but also about safe alcohol limitations.

“They can only make good decisions if they have knowledge,” Finbloom said.

“It’s all about being very, very clear with your kids,” Merritt said, “and talking to them about the facts.”

Wilburn also advised parents to “create an environment in which you can engage them, and they can ask questions, and you can ask questions about them.”

In regards to the Lifeline Law, Wilburn reminded viewers that IMPD’s “primary responsibility is to save a life.”

To watch the interview, click here.

Along with IYSA’s school presentations, they also create temporary “digital domes” on school campuses. Using nearby cell towers, the “dome” can push out messages to individuals’ mobile devices. Students who are in the area and connected to data can receive messages regarding the Lifeline Law and the importance of reporting medical and criminal crises.

Westenberger says the program and the “digital dome” are usually well-received. IYSA has presented to approximately 40,000 students in the past year and a half and garnered about 300 million web impressions from the “digital dome.” Plus, more than 100,000 informational cards have been distributed to 20 campuses around Indiana.

As spring break travel commences, it is vital to remember Indiana is only one of several states that have similar Lifeline Laws.

“Indiana is progressing, in that way, I would say,” said Finbloom. “We’re encouraging good Samaritans. We’re encouraging people to do the right thing.”

When talking with youth about binge drinking, IYSA’s motto is a good mantra for families: Make the call. Stay. Cooperate.

Click here to watch the Lifeline Law PSA.