Party Busters hot line thwarts teen drinking

December 22, 1992|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,Staff Writer

Know about a teen-age drinking party and want to stop it?

You can snitch to the Baltimore County Office of Substance Abuse, and it will take care of it -- no questions asked.

The Party Busters hot line is aimed at stopping drinking parties before they get started -- with a quick call to the hosts ahead of time, according to Michael H. Gimbel, director of the substance abuse agency.

The hot line idea isn't new, Mr. Gimbel said, but it has generally been limited to prom season. Now the hot line will be available year-round.

Mr. Gimbel said he thought about a permanent hot line after he was invited out to dinner by the parents of a teen-ager at a private school.

He said they were worried about a parent-sanctioned drinking party at another student's home. They wanted to stop the party but didn't want to be publicly identified and risk social ostracism for themselves or their child.

Parents who think they're doing their kids a favor by allowing them to get drunk with their friends at home and sleep it off in the den instead of behind a steering wheel are wrong, Mr. Gimbel said, because alcohol abuse is a serious problem.

Parents or teachers who hear about a drinking party need only call Mr. Gimbel's office at 887-3828 during business hours. They don't have to leave their names, and secretaries will fill out prepared forms and forward them to county police.

When Mom or Dad gets a phone call from the police -- or from Mr. Gimbel personally -- warning that any sanctioned drinking party could result in a fine of up to $500 for a first offense, $1,000 for a second offense, and open the family to endless civil suits if anyone is injured, they usually change their minds, he said.

"They get very nervous," he said. "We've cut off dozens of parties."

The call he made as a result of the dinner produced a quick promise to call off the party, he said. But that wasn't the end of it.

The high-schooler in question raised such a ruckus at home about his mother's "broken promise" that she later rented a hotel room for the affair, Mr. Gimbel said. He got wind of that, too, and called the hotel and the parent again. "That iced it," he said.

His office has been getting half a dozen calls a week lately, he said, from parents or teachers, often involving students at private schools.

"Five or six years ago, the message was against drunk driving, and it's worked," Mr. Gimbel said. Road fatalities nationally among teens who were drinking and driving have dropped by half since then.

In the process, however, some parents have decided that to keep their kids off the highways, they should let them drink at home instead -- with their friends. It's not only illegal but a bad idea, Mr. Gimbel said.

"Now we have to do some re-education," he said. "We've got to take it to the next step." Underage drinking is the most serious drug problem among teen-agers in Baltimore County, he said.

Alcohol use by teens is the primary cause of date rape, he said, and plays a prominent role in child abuse by teens, teen pregnancies, suicides, and in swelling the ranks of alcoholics.

In addition, alcohol affects the brains and bodies of growing teen-agers in ways more damaging than it does adults.

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