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South Dakota law enforcement pushing for more knowledge on 'good samaritan' legislation

Officials are hoping to spread knowledge about a law that gives a "good samaritan" immunity for reporting underage alcohol consumption or a drug overdose during an emergency.

There's been limited recorded use of the law, which was passed by the state Legislature earlier this year. But as lawmakers gear up for the 2018 session, local law enforcement officers are hoping to get more publicity for last year's legislation.

House Bill 1082 grants immunity from prosecution of underage consumption for a person who assists another person in need of emergency assistance, as long as that person remains at the scene and cooperates with first responders and law enforcement.

That law is especially beneficial for college-aged students, and although Mitchell police have yet to apply the law to local cases, Det. Lt. Don Everson said it's a "good law" to have on the books.

And Mitchell students are aware of the law, Everson said, noting that local officers tell Dakota Wesleyan University and Mitchell Technical Institute students about it in the fall.

"It should be more widely known," Everson said. "I believe that it is a good law, though."

The law applies to drug overdoses, too, according to Jerauld County Deputy Paul Sheldon.

As various drugs become more widespread in South Dakota, Sheldon also said it's important for people to be aware there are consequences for illegal actions, but saving lives is more important than prosecution.

In 2014, South Dakota ranked 49th out of 51 states for total drug overdose deaths, making up fewer than 1 percent of the fatal overdoses in the U.S.

Regardless, HB 1082 is intended to keep those numbers low and avoid massive overdose death outbreaks plaguing other states in the country.

"We're not out to take the whole world to jail, we want to help," Sheldon said. "If you're at a party and there's a problem and a person is dying, don't leave that person there and don't call 911 and leave. If that person dies, you're looking at serious, serious problems and we don't want to see anyone getting harmed."

While the Jerauld County Sheriff's Office has yet to implement the law, nicknamed the "good samaritan law," Sheldon said that's not necessarily bad.

"I hope it means that those overdoses aren't happening and people don't need to use it," Sheldon said. "But it's better to be safe, and knowing this stuff can't hurt."