Oregon bill aims to curb youth drinking deaths

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SALEM, Ore. — Oregon House committee members will work Monday on an bill aimed at reducing underage drinking deaths.

The law would provide limited amnesty for those younger than 21 who seek medical aid for themselves or others for drinking too much alcohol. It would give protection from an alcohol possession citation if the evidence came as a result of their seeking help.

Rep. Margaret Doherty, D-Tigard, said fear of legal trouble for themselves or their friends can keep underage drinkers from seeking medical help that could prevent alcohol-related deaths.

Speaking on behalf of the Oregon Chapter of the American College of Emergency Physicians, Katy King told lawmakers at a House Judiciary Committee hearing earlier this week that alcohol poisoning can cause “loss of consciousness, low blood pressure and body temperature, coma, respiratory depression or death.”

A North Dakota State University study in 2009 found that more than half of underage students surveyed had helped another student with alcohol poisoning symptoms but did not seek outside help. Of those who sought help, more than half went to a student or a parent. Only 7.5 percent went to a hospital, and fewer than 2 percent sought help from the police.

“The whole idea (of the bill) is to save lives,” Doherty said.