BIG RAPIDS — Local police and medical authorities are in support of a new state statute that provides a way for severely intoxicated minors and an accompanying individual to seek medical assistance without the fear of facing charges.

The law passed by the Michigan Legislature amended the current Minor In Possession legislation to give amnesty to minors who consume alcohol if they voluntarily contact a police officer for treatment or present themselves to a health facility.

The statute also can protect an individual who accompanies the person seeking help. The bill was introduced by Rep. Anthony Forlini, R-Harrison Township, in March of 2011 and signed by Gov. Snyder in May of 2012. It took effect on June 1.

The legislative analysis on the statute said the change is “meant to deter underage drinking, an unfortunate and unintended result of the penalties is that minors who believes they, or friends, are suffering a medical crisis due to alcohol consumption is less likely to call 9-1-1 or to go to an emergency room because of the fear of arrest and the associated penalties if convicted.”

Dr. David Elwell, who specializes in emergency medicine at the Mecosta County Medical Center, said on average he sees one patient each day who is overly intoxicated, but might see up to three per night if there are city or campus-wide events taking place. He said an average hospital stay for such a patient is between six to eight hours.

Though the hospital does not call police to notify them of an intoxicated minor patient, the time spent in emergency care can be enough of a learning experience for the individual without the additional legal consequences, Elwell said, adding he is in support of the amnesty statute.

“I think it’s important that this law protects someone getting care,” Elwell said. “It’s a good thing to allow people to do the right thing — the good Samaritan thing.”

Drinking large amounts of alcohol within a short period of time is dangerous and can be deadly if medical attention is not received. Alcohol poisoning can cause symptoms including vomiting, seizures, slow and irregular breathing, unconsciousness and brain damage. Treatment can range from choking prevention to the intravenous transfer of hydration fluids.

Elwell noted the change is additionally beneficial because a second party helping the patient can inform medical staff of the patient’s recent history, possible medications and other potential complications.

Ferris State University’s Department of Public Safety Director Bruce Borkovich said he supports the statute and believes it was well researched before approval.

“I don’t see this as a way for people to get around something,” said Borkovich. “If it’s a law that might save a life, I think it’s better than someone not seeking medical attention because they’re afraid of getting charged.”

He said Ferris does have MIP incidences, but the number of citations is similar to what other universities see.

“In any college town, there are going to be MIP issues, but it’s not a large problem here,” Borkovich said.

In the event a severely intoxicated minor did approach an officer and ask for medical assistance, the officer would immediately provide general first aid and call medical services. In rare cases, the individual or individuals could be escorted to a medical facility, Borkovich said, noting although the statute can protect the person involved, it is not a “get-out-of-jail-free card” or a loophole in one’s responsibility of complying with the law.

Ferris students Hailey Campbell, 18, and Blake Trujillo, 19, believe the statute is a positive change, because both believe intoxicated minors do not seek help for fear of the law.

“It could help save peoples’ lives,” said Trujillo. “If you know someone in trouble, you won’t think twice about taking them in.”

Campbell agreed.

“I think it’s a good thing, because if you’re getting help for it, you shouldn’t be punished,” she said.

Big Rapids Department of Public Safety Director Andrea Nerbonne agreed with Borkovich and said she and her fellow officers want to be pro-active about safety when it comes to alcohol use. The department deals with about 20 MIP offenses each month during the school year.

“I think it’s great, and truly, I think it’s common sense,” Nerbonne said. “You want to get that person medical attention. You’re not focusing on a charge.”