When to make the call

His breathing isn’t right, and nobody knows how to react. It’s a terrifying situation for everyone involved. At the unsanctioned semiformal after-party, a non-Harvard-Westlake student was in this situation and, though the student ended up unharmed, the lag taken in calling an ambulance could have been the difference.

Too often not enough action is taken, or none at all. The fear of consequences—angry parents, blaring sirens, a ruined evening—leads to confusion when time could be a serious issue. But there is no punishment parents can give, no ticket so severe to justify pausing for an instant if a friend is in danger.

It is the responsibility of teenagers but also of the school and law enforcement to reiterate the fact that when a friend is displaying danger signs at a party, help must be called, and quickly. When 17-year-old Aydin Salek of South Pasadena died of alcohol-related causes after a party in December, his classmates did not call paramedics until it was too late for him to be saved. One of the reasons teenagers hesitate is fear of police retribution, though generally the party is broken up and nothing more. Police must have a policy of 911 immunity, making it abundantly clear that they have no interest in issuing curfew tickets or busting underage drinkers when the stakes are so high. There can be no gray area or mixed signals if the goal is keeping teenagers safe.

Currently, there is no standard punishment for underage drinking at a party. Discipline, if any, ranges from a call to the parents to a misdemeanor charge.

The school too is responsible for informing students of the potential dangers of excessive consumption and the steps necessary to take when someone appears to be in danger. We praise the school’s Choices and Challenges curriculum that goes beyond slogans and abstinence-only deterrence, but more should be done to educate students about what to do and when to make the call.

Though it only takes one to put him or herself in danger, it takes all of us—teenagers, teachers, parents and law enforcement officials—to create an environment where help can be sought.

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