Teen's death prompts calls to halt underage drinking The Underage Drinking Committee sends a strong message to teens.

August 15, 1991|By Meredith Schlow | Meredith Schlow,Evening Sun Staff

The name of the game is "Party Till You Puke."

But teen-agers who lose may pay with their lives.

That's the message that the Baltimore County Underage Drinking Committee wants to get across to secondary school kids who drink.

"I've gotten calls to my office from people who said . . . 'I've never heard of alcohol poisoning," Michael Gimbel, coordinator of the Baltimore County Office of Substance Abuse, said at yesterday's meeting. "They really don't think that you can die from drinking."

Yesterday's meeting was prompted by the death of Brian Christopher Ball, a 15-year-old Texas boy who died of alcohol poisoning Sunday in Salisbury after a teen "All You Can Drink" party.

The gathering drew 30 members of the committee, composed of representatives from the police, the school system, Students Against Drunk Driving, Mothers Against Drunk Driving, the PTA and the Baltimore County Licensed Beverage Association.

They discussed how teens are obtaining and drinking alcohol and ways to stop the abuse.

Parents who serve kids alcohol, liquor store owners who don't ask for identification, police who don't arrest drunken teen-agers and adults who purchase alcohol for underage drinkers were all blamed for the problem.

Brian's death, Gimbel says, "propels the whole issue to another level. Without it, there would have been denial. "I think it kind of brings it home. We've got to work faster."

The Baltimore County School Department is sending a letter to secondary school parents warning them of the penalties adults face for serving alcohol to teen-agers. Committee members hope the letter will convince parents to take a stand against underage drinking.

"There really is a lot of denial," Gimbel says. And it's denial because alcohol is an accepted drug in this society."

Members of the committee watched as Gimbel demonstrated different kinds of drinking paraphernalia, including a beer bong -- a funnel attached to a long tube -- and a beer-can "shooter" -- a small faucet stuck into the bottom of a beer can. Both devices "shoot" the beer down the drinker's throat.

The problems with drinking alcohol rapidly, Gimbel says, is that it bypasses the body's natural defenses against too much alcohol -- passing out or vomiting. The body can't react, and then alcohol poisoning can occur, he said.

"Kids drink for the feeling," Gimbel says. "They're looking for that edge. If feeling good is OK, feeling better is better."

SADD member Scott McCormick, 18, blames some teen drinking on kids' problems at home or with friends.

"The more I learned about alcohol, the more I learned I had friends who were alcoholics. I had friends bringing drinks to schools and drinking them during lunch.

"I think for parents, right now, the best thing to do is the scare tactic." Letting their teen-agers drink, McCormick says, "is a copout."

"They know it's wrong. They're doing something illegal. And the worst parent is the parent who leaves the house on a Friday or Saturday night and knows that their kid is having a party."

"It has to be cool not to drink," says Jennifer Franz, 16. "You have to look down on people that do drink, and realize that you just don't need it."

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