Last month, the New Jersey Assembly approved a new bill, that if passed by the Senate, would guarantee that witnesses who get help for victims of drug and alcohol overdose won’t be prosecuted.
The Rutgers Center of Alcohol Studies has endorsed the bill, known as the “Good Samaritan Overdose Response Act,’’ which center director Robert Pandina believes will save lives. All too often, he says, young people panic when a friend consumes dangerous amounts of drugs or alcohol and fail to get help for fear of reprisals.
Critics of the bill, however, argue that it tacitly condones drug and alcohol use, particularly among high school and college students.
Pandina says that both high school and college students should learn how to respond to potentially “catastrophic’’ scenarios involving alcohol. “No one has attempted to tailor these programs to high school kids, they just existed for college-age young people,’’ Pandina says. “That may be the taboo line. It’s hard to get support for things like this because abstinence is the most dominant message for younger students.’’
Rutgers Today asked Pandina about the Good Samaritan Law and the best way to educate adolescents about alcohol abuse.
Rutgers Today: What’s your response to people who say the Good Samaritan Law is just one more message to young people that intoxication is expected behavior at their age?
Pandina: There is a fine line between endorsing risky behavior and trying to help people escape punishment for helping someone. But such programs are usually limited to college students. The bill recognizes that despite our best prevention efforts, kids do these things and you have to be non-judgmental about intervention efforts rather than simply saying ‘you’re a bad person.’ No one goes out with the intention of overdosing but it happens, especially with inexperienced drinkers. You’d assume that calling 911 would be the natural response because it’s the right thing to do, but if you’re a kid, that’s not the end of it. There are consequences linked to that. You risk being expelled from your dorm or being arrested. You don’t want to punish people for doing the right thing, even if in some cases, a thug is one of the contributors. The center does not condone underage drinking but understands that we must find a way of addressing dangerous outcomes.
Rutgers Today: What are some of the scenarios that students should be aware of and what can they do if they’re in those situations?
Pandina: We try to get them to recognize a dangerous situation and remove themselves or their friends if it happens. What do you do if your girlfriend goes to a party and she looks drunk and wanders off with someone? You try and remove her from that situation. We also try to train students to remember that when you’re in a situation like that and someone is trying to get you out of it, they’re trying to help you. We review a variety of scenarios. For instance, kids may decide to walk rather than risk drunk driving. But 40 percent of pedestrians who are struck and killed are hit when they’re drunk so walking home from the party might lead to other problems. Sometimes, picking someone up and carrying them out is the best option. You don’t want to have a situation where you put a waste basket next to someone after they pass out, so it’s there if they throw up, but when you wake up the next day they’re dead.
Rutgers Today: What should parents know about young people and alcohol?
Pandina: They need to know how to respond to kids who have been drinking. I know of one case where a high schooler had too much to drink and his friends called the boy’s parents and they picked him up– and I assume they lit into him–he jumped out of the car going 60 miles an hour and died.
And there are parents who think its safer for kids to drink in their home rather than driving somewhere and even in those cases kids have died or there’s been a date rape situation and the parents are held liable.
Some of these messages need to be tailored to parents as much as kids.
Media Contact: Robert Pandina
Contact: Carrie Stetler