The death of a 15-year-old youth from alcohol poisoning on the Eastern Shore has renewed public concern about underage drinking in the Baltimore area, the director of Baltimore County's Office of Substance Abuse said yesterday.
A 2-month-old Baltimore County committee on underage drinking met yesterday after Brian C. Ball's death Sunday near Salisbury. The youth died after downing as many as 26 shots of vodka at a party for teen-agers.
"Underage alcohol abuse has been around for ages," said Mike Gimbel, director of the substance abuse office.
"Now that Brian Ball has died, it has opened up a whole new avenue for teens to think about and for our group to deal with," he said.
"A lot of kids don't even know you can die from alcohol overdose," he added. "The problem is a lot more serious than people made it out to be."
The special committee -- comprising parents, students, police, educators and other citizens -- discussed yesterday the extent of Baltimore County's underage drinking and what to do about the problem.
About 68.5 percent of Baltimore County 10th graders and 70.8 per cent of 12th graders used alcohol at least once a month in 1988, according to a study by the Office of Substance Abuse.
Nationwide, 8 million junior and senior high school students -- some as young as 13 -- drink alcohol every week, according to a recent report by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Mr. Gimbel said drunken driving was a big problem but that thousands of Students Against Drunk Driving chapters have begun to educate teens about its dangers.
The problem to deal with now, he said, was "the idea that alcohol is a socially acceptable drug and that teens don't know you can die from alcohol overdose."
The committee yesterday dealt mostly with how teen-agers obtained alcohol, asking student members to relate their experiences.
Several students explained that some teens had phony identification cards and some had parents who would provide them with alcohol. But they said most teens ask an older friend or other adult to buy liquor for them.
"Over 60 percent of teen-agers said they had gotten an adult to buy it for them," Mr. Gimbel said, referring to the Baltimore County study. "It's not the liquor store's fault. They're catching as many as they can, but they can't stop an adult from buying."
"It seems like as long as these kids want to drink or do drugs, they're going to find a way to get it," he added. "But this action-oriented committee is trying to do something about it."
The committee said it will send out letters about underage drinking to parents of county students; create parent education classes about teen alcohol abuse; propose adding alcohol education classes to the county's high school curriculum; and urge police to cite more minors caught with liquor.
"Everyone -- parents, teen-agers, police, school system and other organizations -- has got a role to play in this," he added.
"We're here to let people know this is a serious problem that is killing our teen-agers and show them we're doing something about it as well."