Forum focuses on ways to curb teen drinking

April 07, 1994|By Alisa Samuels | Alisa Samuels,Sun Staff Writer

Too many Howard County teen-agers are hitting the bottle.

And the Partnership Forum says it's time for parents and the community to take the bottle away, lock it up and alert county teen-agers to the dangers of alcohol.

"It's going to take everybody working together" to stop underage drinking, Joyce L. Brown, the county's substance abuse impact services coordinator, said at the forum's meeting yesterday. "It is our responsibility as a county and as a community to do something."

The forum is a 2-year-old organization comprising civic groups and government agencies dedicated to addressing alcohol, tobacco and drug abuse in the county.

County Executive Charles I. Ecker proclaimed April "Alcohol Awareness Month" during yesterday's meeting. Mr. Ecker said some parents mistakingly believe it's OK for their children to use alcohol, as long as they avoid "serious" drugs, such as cocaine and marijuana.

"We have to get the word out that alcohol is just as bad," he said.

Lynn Benton, president of the PTA Council of Howard County, told the forum that the county needs a collaborative effort to reduce underage drinking and open the eyes of parents who say, "My kids don't do that." Twenty representatives from the county's police and health departments, Mothers Against Drunk Driving and other groups attended the meeting.

The PTA created a Parent Awareness Committee on Underage Drinking in November to find ways to combat the problem. The committee, formed in reaction to the alarming 1992 Maryland Drug Adolescent Survey, met four times. Ms. Benton unveiled its recommendations at yesterday's meeting. They include:

* Having police gather more detailed statistics on underage drinking and violations.

* Using wrecked vehicles and other visuals to reinforce the dangers of drinking and driving.

* Developing a speakers bureau.

"What is important is that these recommendations not stay on paper but become a reality," said Ms. Brown.

The Maryland Adolescent Drug Survey in 1992 found that alcohol is the preferred drug among Howard County teen-agers. Alcohol-related accidents are the leading cause of death or injury for U.S. teen-agers.

Each year, alcohol consumption in the county increases by grade level, Ms. Brown said. Some drinkers begin as 10-year-olds.

More startling, she said, is that more than 60 percent of county teen-agers reported buying alcohol. At least 25 percent of the twelfth graders reported driving under the influence of alcohol, and 50 percent reported being a passenger in a vehicle driven by someone under the influence, Ms. Brown said.

Dawn Stonesifer, a therapist and coordinator of Diversions, the police department's first-time juvenile offenders program, started issuing alcohol-related citations to teen-agers this year. She said 17 were issued in March alone.

As an example of community action, Ms. Brown cited a group of teen-agers in Raleigh, N.C., who go into stores with signs and applaud merchants who don't sell cigarettes to minors. They also criticize merchants who sell to minors and publish their names in community papers.

"Imagine if we did that with alcohol," she said.

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