BY BENJAMIN S. CHASE
Daily Staff Reporter
Published March 30, 2009
Under current Michigan law, underage party-going students who bring a drunk friend in need of medical attention to a hospital are fair game to be charged with a minor in possession.
But state Sen. Liz Brater (D–Ann Arbor) introduced a bill in the Michigan Senate last week that could change that.
Senate Bill 408, which is being considered by the Senate Judiciary Committee, would protect minors who seek help for individuals in need of medical attention as a result of excessive alcohol consumption — regardless of age.
Though Brater said she hopes the bill will help save lives and keep minors from fearing the repercussions of calling 911 or taking a friend to the hospital, she added the bill is not designed to excuse underage drinking.
“The bill is very narrowly constructed. It physically allows a safe harbor for a minor in possession who goes for medical assistance for another minor in possession in need of medical assistance,” Brater said. “It in no way allows underage drinking and it does not condone underage drinking.”
Though this is Brater’s second attempt to get the bill through the Michigan legislature, it comes several months after 134 college presidents and chancellors expressed their support for the Amethyst Initiative — which called for a reconsideration of the national drinking age of 21 — as a means of cutting down on underage binge drinking.
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, more than 1,700 college students between the ages of 18 and 24 die every year from alcohol-related causes. The statistics also show that more than 12 percent of people between the ages of 18 and 20 have alcohol dependencies.
Brater said the bill is not designed to encourage minors to drink, but rather to protect those who make the mistake of consuming too much and putting themselves in a potentially dangerous situation.
“We want to make sure that people in need of medical care are able to receive it,” Brater said.
Dr. Jeffrey Desmond, the emergency medicine service chief at the University of Michigan, told the Daily in 2007 that University Hospital does not have a policy of contacting police when underage drinkers seek medical attention. Desmond added that police are only contacted if there is evidence to suggest that the alcohol-related treatment is linked to a violent crime.
“There’s a common misperception among students that we call DPS and that students will get MIPs if they come to the hospital,” Desmond told the Daily. “Our interest is in making sure that they’re getting the help they need. We don’t want to discourage someone from coming here.”
Despite the hospital’s policy, Psi Upsilon Fraternity President Luke Donahue said he has seen cases in which people have not brought friends to the hospital for medical attention for fear of getting an MIP. He said he believed that current laws have served as a deterrent for some students on campus.
“I do think that there are times that people don’t go to the hospital for fear of legal repercussions,” Donahue said. “I feel that lifting the fear of those repercussions would encourage people to go to the hospital if they need help.”
Current Michigan law classifies an MIP as a misdemeanor charge that carries a $400 fine. Minors charged with the offense are also required to appear in court. First-time offenders may be subject to probation and repeat offenders could face jail time.