'It's scary to think about'

Underage drinking forum presents statistics, calls community to action

The No. 1 place for children to get alcohol is from their parents' stash at home, according to research.

Alcohol kills more children -- on average, 1,700 a year -- than illegal drugs.

Sexual assaults, teen pregnancy, addiction, fatal traffic accidents, high-risk sex and property crimes ... The list of consequences from underage drinking goes on.

How did the problem get this bad?

That's what organizers of Thursday's forum -- Underage Drinking: A National Town Hall Meeting at Centennial Mall -- were asking. They used sobering facts such as those listed above to reinforce the importance of educating and curbing underage alcohol use.

The Grand Futures Pre--vention Coalition sponsored the forum.

"Young kids are starting to drink," said Chad Kiniston, a grant specialist with the coalition. "It's going to escalate out of control unless we do something about it."

The problem is no less prevalent in Moffat County, where, according to a recent poll of students, 77 percent of all fifth- through 12th-grade students have tried alcohol at least once. Other statistics indicate that 21 percent of high school seniors have driven after drinking and 40 percent of seniors have ridden with a driver who'd been drinking.

"It's scary to think about -- that stuff like this is really going on here," Kiniston said.

He suggests several tips to help parents stop their children from using alcohol before they turn 21.

They include setting curfews and rules, limiting alcohol use at adult parties, addressing suspected drinking right away and not being swayed by the actions of other parents.

Moffat County Undersheriff Jerry Hoberg and Craig police officer Travis Young, who sit on the Grand Futures board, said parents trying to keep kids safe by hosting drinking parties at home are contributing to the problem.

"The problem is, parents think they're doing a good thing," Hoberg said.

He warned parents about from hosting parties because if someone is injured, liability falls on them.

Young said community members need to alert law enforcement more often about underage drinking.

"If people would call a lot more, our success rate would be a lot higher," he said.

Thursday's forum drew 12 audience members, none of whom were teenagers.

Misty Schulze, a grant specialist at Grand Futures, said she was disappointed by the small turnout.

"We had hoped to have a bigger response, but as you can see, no one wants to take responsibility for that, other than this small group here," she said, referring to the panel and audience.

Kiniston said stopping underage drinking is going to take a unified effort from parents and the community.

"The parent is the biggest influence on a child," Kiniston said. But, he said, "all of us have an effect on the youth in our area."

Joshua Roberts can be reached at 824-7031, ext. 210, or jroberts@craigdailypress.com

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