New Nebraska Law aims to prevent under-age drinking/drug deaths


October 2nd, 2015

New state laws and campus policies are aimed at helping people who've had too much alcohol or used illicit drugs. (Photo by Ryan Robertson, KVNO News)

New state laws and campus policies are aimed at helping people who’ve had too much alcohol or used illicit drugs. (Photo by Ryan Robertson, KVNO News)

A new state law makes it easier for under-age Nebraskans to call for help when they or a friend might have had too much to drink. Lincoln Senator Adam Morfeld proposed what’s been called the “Good Samaritan Law” after a college student in his district died of alcohol poisoning.

A little more than a year ago, 18-year-old Clayton Real, a University of Nebraska-Lincoln freshman, was found dead inside the Farmhouse Fraternity. He had been drinking heavily the night before and left by his fraternity brothers to “sleep it off” according to police records. Four of Real’s fraternity brothers were charged with felony alcohol procurement.

State Senator Adam Morfeld represents the district where Real died, and said more could and should have been done to prevent Real’s death. Morfeld is the author of a new law which provides limited legal immunity to under-age Nebraskans that are experiencing an alcohol medical emergency

“So they will be able to call for their friend or call for themselves and not worry about legal charges or ramifications if there’s an alcohol related emergency,” Morfeld said.

Morfeld cited the fear of getting in trouble as the reason some minors won’t seek medical attention for themselves or a friend.

“There are times where I can remember back in my own college career where somebody did need medical assistance, and we were afraid to call,” Morfeld said, “but I think that every Senator that I talk to on this issue and every senator that voted for it, which was a vast majority of them, they could remember a time, too.”

The Good Samaritan law went into effect across the state on August 1st, but some college campuses are taking things a step further.

Phil Covington is the director of student conduct and community standards at the University of Nebraska at Omaha. He said at the start of the current semester, a new UNO policy was put in place which builds on the idea of the Good Samaritan law. Instead of just limited immunity from alcohol-related emergencies, the policy includes drug-related emergencies as well.

“In the past we’ve had situations where maybe two students are hanging out together. Somebody has had too much and then the other party is left with a really difficult decision of ‘if I call and get them help then I’m probably going to be in trouble too because I was drinking’ or ‘I had a little bit of the marijuana, or whatever it was, and I don’t want to be in trouble but I also don’t want my friend have major medical issues, what do I do? what I do not do?’” Covington postulated, “Maybe I’ll call and then I’ll take off and hope that the EMS gets here quickly and finds them before it’s too late.”

Covington said the new policy does not condone underage drinking, and certainly isn’t a get-out-of-jail-free card. He said when a student calls for help, they need to wait until that help arrives and cooperate with emergency responders and University officials afterwards.

“Then that individual ultimately is not likely going to end up being charged with a violation of the student code of conduct,” Covington said, “We’re still going to sit down, we’re going to educate them. We want them to learn from the set of decisions that they made so they can make better decisions in the future, but they’re not going to end up with a conduct record as a part of that process.”

Covington said UNO’s new policy was developed with input from the Board of Regents, faculty, and the UNO student body government.

Nora and Valerie are sisters and students at UNO. Their names have been changed to protect their identities.

Valerie said both the new state law and UNO policy are “cool because you don’t have to feel so bad about getting busted when you do get busted.”

Nora hopes to work for the government one day. She said she tries to pace herself when she drinks.

When asked her if she’d ever been in a situation where she wanted to call someone for help, but didn’t, Nora talked about a friend who drank too much just a week before.

“She was completely wasted. She was vomiting. I didn’t know what to do, my friends didn’t know what to do. And then if you’re also not in the right mind, you just don’t know what to do,” she explained, “I’m not scared, but I don’t want to get in trouble. Especially knowing that I’m in school, I don’t want to see this go on my record, I don’t want the government to see this, especially if I’m trying to get a government job. I don’t want anything that affects me at all. So that’s why I’d rather not call.”

Nora’s friend turned out to be okay, but the situation is the perfect illustration of what Senator Morfeld and his Good Samaritan law are trying to eliminate.

“So they don’t go to bed in their dorm room and die like they did in Farmhouse Fraternity in my own district,” Morfeld said.

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