Legislative Update 255
Indiana Senator Jim Merritt proposed a Bill, which would expand the Lifeline law’s
immunity to include those under twenty-one who are under the influence or in possession
of illicit drugs when he or she calls 9-1-1 to seek medical care for someone experiencing a
drug overdose. However, the Bill ultimately died in committee despite support from the
Drug Abuse Task Force. Some fear that amnesty laws such as the Lifeline Law undermine
the message that underage drinking and illicit drug use are unacceptable. Critics also argue
that the law may even lead to increased recklessness by juveniles who believe they no
longer have to fear criminal punishment for underage drinking or illegal drug use.
However, in this case, the ends justify the means. Juveniles are dying unnecessary and
highly preventable deaths, largely due to a fear of the criminal justice system. Indiana must
strike a delicate balance between encouraging youth to be law-abiding citizens and
understanding that juveniles are impulsive and rebellious individuals that are likely to make
mistakes along the path to maturity. The legislature must ensure that these split-second
decisions not result in the loss of a life. Juveniles cannot feel any apprehension whatsoever
when faced with the decision of whether to call 9-1-1 to seek help for a dying peer. The
legislature must expand the Lifeline law’s immunity to prevent further fatalities.
Since it was enacted in 2012, the Indiana Lifeline law has effectively combatted
preventable, underage, alcohol-related deaths by providing immunity to bystanders and
encouraging them to call 9-1-1 to seek medical care for those in need. In light of the Lifeline
law’s successful application to alcohol-related deaths, the law should be further expanded
to encompass opioid-related overdoses- an issue that continues to plague Indiana. Just as a
juvenile should not have to hesitate before calling 9-1-1 to help someone experiencing an
alcohol-related overdose, he should not have to hesitate when the overdose is opioid-related. Young people should not die preventable deaths due to fear of legal consequence.
Indiana must focus on protecting its young people, instead of prosecuting them.
Alcohol Alert No. 87, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALCOHOL ABUSE AND ALCOHOLISM, (Nov. 2, 2014)
Alcohol Overdose: The Dangers of Drinking Too Much, NATIONAL INSTITUTE ON ALCOHOL ABUSE AND
ALCOHOLISM (Oct., 2015)
Brandon Smith, Indiana Public Media, Lifeline Expansion Bill Blocked By Legislators, INDIANA PUBLIC
MEDIA, (March 21, 2016) http://indianapublicmedia.org/news/lifeline-expansion-bill-blocked-legislators-
Brett’s Story, INDIANA YOUTH SERVICES ASS’N, http://www.indysb.org/make-good-decisions/brett-s-story.
(last visted Jan. 27, 2017.)
Deborah K. Lewis & Timothy C. Marchell, Safety first: A medical amnesty approach to alcohol poisoning
at a U.S. university, INTL J. OF DRUG POL’Y (2006) available at