Student tells peers how her alcohol use ended in the hospital Teen-agers turn out for drug seminar HOWARD COUNTY EDUCATION

November 16, 1992|By Larry Phillips | Larry Phillips,Contributing Writer

In Monday's Howard County section, the headline next to a front-page photograph of Lindsay McCaskill was inaccurate. Ms. McCaskill was a participant in a Hammond High School forum about alcohol abuse, but not the speaker.

The Baltimore Sun regrets the errors.

Yawns have traditionally accompanied anti-alcohol talks at Hammond High School and few people have bothered to attend.

But last week 180 students and parents turned out for a forum called "Alcohol is a Drug, Too" after two drunken students at a back-to-school dance Sept. 11 had to be taken to Howard County General Hospital.

One of those students, 15-year-old sophomore Larissa Neligh, spoke at the forum about her encounter with alcohol and was praised by fellow students for stepping forward.

FOR THE RECORD - CORRECTION

"The testimony of students like Larissa and other young people who have experienced problems with alcohol has a much greater impact than some adult reading a bunch of statistics," said 17-year-old Joe Brewer, a senior who attended the assembly last Monday in the school auditorium.

Larissa described herself as an occasional drinker who had no intention of drinking before attending the dance.

"Our school dances are not known to be fun, and drinking is a way to make it better," Larissa said in an interview.

"If 200 kids were at the party, at least 150 had been drinking," she estimated. "School officials and parents would be surprised at who drinks."

Larissa said she became sick after drinking rapidly from a squeeze bottle that contained either hard liquor or beer.

The next thing she remembers is being strapped down in the hospital, she said.

Crushed charcoal was put in her stomach to absorb the alcohol and a tube was placed in her nose overnight to drain her stomach.

"It wasn't worth it. I almost died," Larissa said.

"I haven't had a drink since. Just the smell of alcohol makes me sick."

Like Larissa, the other Hammond student taken to the hospital was released the next day.

Larissa thinks talks like hers can have a positive effect. But she doesn't expect them to end teen-age drinking.

"Every kid is going to try it," she said.

"Hopefully it won't take a trip to the hospital for them to become more responsible.

"I tell my friends to stay away from alcohol if they can. If they can't I caution them not to overdo it," she said.

Larissa also hopes to take her message to some middle schools in the county.

"Kids talking about their bad experiences with alcohol is something you can really relate to," said 15-year-old Julie Finglass, who attended the forum.

News about the September incident, combined with peer pressure and promotional fliers given to 600 parents at an open house in October, were responsible for the large turnout, say students and Hammond Principal Marshall J. Peterson.

"We agree with the students that teen-agers talking to their peers about the dangers of alcohol use is an effective way to get the word out," said Mr. Peterson.

Sue Goldman, a member of the Howard County Police Drug Abuse Resistance Education (DARE) program, said teens mostly drink beer because it's easy to get, and wine coolers because they think it doesn't contain as much alcohol.

Dawn Stonesifer of the Howard County Police Youth Division is one adult whose statistics made an impression on the students.

Officer Stonesifer cited a 1989 survey showing that 9.6 percent of the county's sixth-graders and 19.6 percent of eight-graders had used alcohol the previous month.

The figures went up to 56.6 percent for 10th-graders and 66.7 percent for high school seniors.

Teen-agers usually obtain alcohol with false or counterfeit identification and by getting adults to purchase it for them, according to county police.

Adults who purchase alcohol are guilty of a civil offense and subject to a $500 fine. The fine climbs to $1,000 for a second offense.

The Hammond forum was organized by Mary Ann Crawford, program chairman of the school's Parent-Teacher-Student Association.

"I was hoping for a large showing like we got," said Mrs. Crawford.

"But it's still not good enough when you consider we have over 900 students at Hammond. Too many parents deny there is an alcohol problem."

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