Craig For high school youths, it is easy to get ahold of alcohol.
As easy as a phone call.
So said Dani Conner, a Moffat County High School junior, during Tuesday night's Youth Wellness Initiative meeting at the high school.
The teenager presented her assessment of the underage drinking situation to parents, law enforcement officials, school personnel and community members.
And she was not alone in that assessment. Four other students echoed similar sentiments, and statistics show area youths are more likely to drink than other Colorado students or other students from around the nation.
"It's been easy to get access to alcohol," Conner said.
She admitted that, once, she was no different.
That, once, she enjoyed partying. The alcohol-related death of her best friend put an end to that. Now, she advocates against underage drinking.
That is why she and the others attended the newly-created committee formed under the Northwest Colorado Community Health Project, which has set its sights on preventing and reducing underage drinking.
Tuesday's engagement was the first such meeting - with more planned to come - and what the teenagers said sparked a lengthy discussion about alcohol use in minors and possible solutions to the problem.
Community Health Project Coordinator Diane Miller presented the results of the 2005-06 Healthy Kids Colorado Survey, which indicated that Moffat County High School students use alcohol more than cigarettes, chewing tobacco or marijuana.
More than 50 percent of all MCHS students surveyed reported they had used alcohol in the previous 30-day period. In comparison, less than 20 percent said they had used cigarettes or marijuana during the same period. Approximately 23 percent reported using chewing tobacco.
Miller presented a three-pronged strategy for reducing youth alcohol abuse. The suggested plan includes parent education and empowerment, changing social norms and improving the enforcement of laws against teen drinking.
For high school principal Jane Harmon, part of the solution is encouraging parents to confront their teens about underage alcohol use.
"Being friends (with children) isn't what it's about right now," she said.
"We need to help parents see the power they do have," she added.
Conner said alcohol abuse in teenagers can be caused by several factors, including peer pressure and stress, both at home at in school.
Moffat County Judge Sandra Gardner said part of the solution is accountability.
"I think kids need to know the consequences of a" minor in possession charge, she said.
A first MIP offense costs the defendant his or her driver's license for three months. The defendant also may be required to undergo a substance abuse evaluation and follow recommended treatment. The defendant also must pay fines up to $250.
Usually, Gardner orders minors charged with an MIP to attend a five-hour teen alcohol class upon a first offense.
Fines and license suspensions increase with second and third MIP convictions. The first two offenses are unclassified, but a third offense is considered a class 2 misdemeanor.
Underage drinking "is a community issue and a family issue," the judge said. "I'm sure I only see the very, very tip of the iceberg."
Bridget Manley can be reached at 824-7031, ext. 207, or firstname.lastname@example.org