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Underage drinking kills daily

Many parents may find it hard to believe, but by the time their children reach the eighth grade, nearly 50 percent of adolescents have had at least one drink, and over 20 percent report having been &uot;drunk&uot;.

Those are the startling statistics reported by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA).

It also reports that approximately 20 percent of 8th graders and almost 50 percent of 12th graders have consumed alcohol within the past 30 days.

Among 12th graders, almost 30 percent report drinking on three or more occasions per month and 30 percent of 12th graders engage in heavy episodic drinking, now popularly termed &uot;binge&uot; drinking-that is, having at least five or more drinks on one occasion within the past 2 weeks-and it is estimated that 20 percent do so on more than one occasion.

The NIAAA emphasizes that unless your child is 21 years or older, they are breaking the law.

They can be fined and in some cases, parents are being fined and even jailed for their child’s behavior.

The NIAAA also warns of the dangers of the underage drinking illegally.

For example, the rate of alcohol-related traffic accidents is greater for drivers ages 16 to 20 than for drivers age 21 and older. Adolescents also are vulnerable to alcohol-induced brain damage, which could contribute to poor performance at school or work. In addition, youthful drinking is associated with an increased likelihood of developing alcohol abuse or dependence later in life. Early intervention is essential to prevent the development of serious alcohol problems among youth between the ages of 12 and 20.

Getting started

These are all stats very familiar to the Coalition Against Underage Drinking in Butler County.

The group formed to combat underage drinking in Butler County and is modeled after a program in Mobile and Baldwin counties called the Underage Drinking Task Force.

Some of those involved in the coastal counties’ program visited Greenville recently to tell local business leaders, law enforcement, civic leaders, public officials, school administrators and private citizens what their group is doing to try to minimize underage drinking, and the consequences of it.

Success seen

Phillip Garrett, who works with the program for the Mobile Police Department said underage drinking was a problem for his city, but efforts are proving useful.

&uot;This initiative has really taken off in our city,&uot; he said.

&uot;I believe it has saved lives because we have increased the number of people we’ve sent to jail for selling to minors, providing alcohol to minors or allowing alcohol to be served to minors,&uot; he said.

Garrett believes one reason his department is heavily involved is because they don’t want to deliver a family bad news.

&uot;We don’t like going to a home and telling them their child is dead because of an accident or overdose,&uot; he said.

&uot;That is the reality of what can happen.&uot;

Like many other police departments, he said the MPD used to make the underage subjects pour out their alcohol and then escorted them home.

Not anymore.

Now they are taken in and booked for possession.

He also said that they are now targeting parents who allow house parties or pasture parties.

When they get tips on underage parties like these, they break them up and take the underage offenders, and those supplying them with alcohol, to jail.

Alabama law

In Alabama, there are statutory provisions relating to underage drinkers and their families, that he said many people aren’t aware exists.

The primary statutory provisions that are relevant to issues of underage drinking and family considerations are the following:

n Alabama’s Dram Shop Statute: 6-5-70.

Furnishing liquor to minors.

This statute allows for people injured by a minor who is intoxicated to sue the business that sold the liquor to the minor.

n Alabama’s Right of Action Statute: 6-5-71. Right of Action of wife, child, parent or other person for injury in consequence of illegal sale or distribution of liquor or beverages.

This allows the family of a victim to sue the person or business that sold or provided liquor to a minor, who then may have caused death or injury.

n Alabama Open House Party Statute. 13A-11-10-1. Open house parties; adult allowing party to continue with illegal alcohol or drug use.

Garrett said parents who allow their children to have lock-ins or pasture parties are committing a felony. He said parents believe they are keeping their children and their children’s friends safe, but they are breaking the law.

And in Mobile and Baldwin counties, they are sending parents to prison for it.

Under that statute, if it is proven that a host parent knows that alcohol is being consumed on his or her premises, that parent is obligated, by law, to intercede, to stop the drinking and to end the activity.

If the parent fails to step in, and allows the behavior to continue, it is a criminal offense.

Going to college

It is important to remember that the term underage is used to describe anyone under the age of 21.

It should be noted that many people as young as 17 are now attending college.

This takes them away from their parents’ direct supervision.

This often leaves the minor having to decide right from wrong and in a university’s social setting peer pressure plays a hand.

Colleges are often saddled with the moniker, &uot;party school,&uot; and they are taking steps to change that.

At the University of Alabama, the university works closely with the Tuscaloosa Police Department in cracking down on underage drinking.

In an Oct. 2003 article in the university’s newspaper, Crimson & White, it became clear that police are cracking down at the Capstone.

Statistics showed a marked increase in alcohol-related citations over the same period for the previous year.

The report states the TPD has stepped up its effort in finding illegal drinkers around the university.

TPD Capt. David Hartin said the increases in the number of minor in possession and open beverage citations are likely due to the additional number of officers Chief Ken Swindle assigned to work the fringe areas of campus. Hartin also said he had talked to some of the officers working the area, and they had issued a number of such citations.

While the numbers are citywide, Hartin suspects a high percentage of the citations came from downtown and the &uot;Strip,&uot; an area of bars and restaurants just off campus.

Hartin said though the number of open beverage citations increased, bar owners had been very cooperative.

&uot;I talked to a midnight-shift patrol officer who works the Strip area,&uot; Hartin said. &uot;He noted that over the past month, the tavern owners were doing a great job in working with the officers in keeping patrons from leaving their premises with open containers of alcohol.&uot;

Hartin said alcohol is a factor in most assault cases, providing a spark in those situations.

&uot;Most people don’t get that violent,&uot; he said.

On campus, the University of Alabama Police Department recorded six public intoxication incidences in October. It also reported three DUI arrests.

For more of this story see the printed edition