Underage drinking community issue

Whose problem is the growing epidemic of underage drinking? Whose responsibility is it to fix?

Who takes the responsibility for the growing epidemic of underage drinking in Moffat County?

Is it young adults who'll risk criminal action to make a $20 profit for buying youth a six pack?

Is it parents who silently endorse underage drinking by allowing parties in their homes?

Is it liquor establishments who don't enforce a policy of carding anyone who purchases alcohol?

Is it law enforcement officers who issue warnings instead of citations in the hope that will scare teens straight?

Is it the prosecutors who offer deferred sentences to give youth a chance to stay out of the criminal justice system?

Is it even something the community should be concerned about?

Absolutely.

The Craig Police Department issued ?? citations for underage consumption or possession in 2002. So far this year ?? citations have been issued.

At a Halloween dance sponsored by organizations hoping to provide youth with a safe alternative to drinking and drug use, one teen arrived drunk -- so drunk that she suffered alcohol poisoning.

Alcohol is the number one drug of choice for teens. What's worse is that most teens aren't casual drinkers, they binge drink -- consuming five or more drinks in one sitting. About 15 percent of teens are binge drinkers in any given month.

Drinking large amounts of alcohol can lead to coma or even death. In 1998, 35.8 percent of traffic deaths of 15- to 20-year-olds were alcohol-related.

On the plus side, research shows that 70 percent of people ages 12 to 20 haven't had a drink in the past month, but they're not immune to the effects of alcohol.

Those teens with the self-esteem and self-restraint not to drink aren't even safe. If they're around people who are drinking, they have an increased risk of being seriously injured, involved in car crashes or affected by violence.

Experimentation with alcohol and drugs during adolescence is common. Unfortunately, teenagers often don't see the link between their actions today and the consequences tomorrow. Using alcohol and tobacco at a young age increases the risk of using other drugs later. Some teens will experiment and stop, or continue to use occasionally, without significant problems. Others will develop a dependency, moving on to more dangerous drugs and causing significant harm to themselves and possibly others.

What can be done?

It's nearly impossible to gauge the extent of the problem locally, but there are methods of prevention that all community members can take part in -- and underage drinking is a problem that needs a communitywide solution.

Law enforcement officials say the main stopping point is reducing the availability of alcohol. That means locking liquor cabinets, making sure businesses aren't selling alcohol to minors and probably the most difficult -- stopping people from buying alcohol for minors.

Most businesses have great records for not selling to minors and area organizations make sure those policies are enforced by conducting random stings. A keg identification program helps officers to track the purchaser of a keg when it's found at a gathering of underage people.

But the missing link -- the purchasers of small quantities is still there. Since catching those people is difficult, time-consuming and man-power intense, the final stop needs to come from community members.

Parents need to adopt a no-tolerance stance for teen drinking and they need to educate their children about the risks and impacts of drinking alcohol.

Law enforcement officials and establishments that sell and serve liquor need to take a no-tolerance stance too.

It takes a village. Is this village willing?

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