Down East efforts fight underage drinking

Posted April 14, 2009, at 11:03 p.m.

MACHIAS, Maine — Washington County: One Community, in partnership with the Washington County Sheriff’s Office, has begun a countywide effort to raise awareness about the issue of underage and high-risk drinking as part of national Alcohol Awareness month in April.

With funding awarded to Washington County: One Community to reduce underage drinking, the Sheriff’s Department is investigating, enforcing and prosecuting violators of Maine’s underage drinking laws. Officers have been patrolling spots known for underage drinking parties, such as gravel pits, camps and homes.

Underage drinking can result in criminal offenses, fines of up to $2,000, jail time up to a year, and loss of driver’s license.

“There is a role for everyone,” Washington County Sheriff Donnie Smith said in a press release. “Our role is to ensure that providing alcohol or a place for a minor to consume alcohol, regardless if the minor is a relative or not, will not be tolerated in our county.”

Smith went on to say that “we have discussed ways in which we can address the underage drinking problem in our county but have not had the extra means to increase enforcement until now. In addition to the active party patrols, we are also offering a Tip Line to help encourage community members throughout the county to take a stand against underage drinking.”

In 2008, middle and high school students in Washington County took part in the Maine Youth Drug and Alcohol Use Survey. The results suggested that Washington County teens are strongly influenced by community and family attitude about underage drinking. The survey revealed that:

ä Washington County high school students are more than twice as likely to have had alcohol if they believe adults in their community think it is OK. Of students who believe adults in their community think underage drinking is acceptable, 52 percent reported drinking alcohol in the last 30 days. Of students who believed adults in their community think underage drinking is wrong, 22 percent reported drinking alcohol in the last 30 days.

ä Washington County high school students are more than three times as likely to have had alcohol if they believe their parents think it is OK. Of students who believe their parents think underage drinking is acceptable, 80 percent reported drinking alcohol in the last 30 days. But of the students who believe their parents think underage drinking is wrong, only 27 percent reported drinking alcohol in the last 30 days.

“Parents and community role modeling are undoubtedly making an impact on the youth in Washington County when it comes to underage drinking,” said Sara McConnell, community health specialist for Washington County: One Community. “And for those students who do decide to drink, they don’t realize how susceptible they are to risky behaviors and health problems that can have lasting effects.”

For information on warning signs, Maine’s underage drinking laws and penalties, resource guides and more, visit www.MaineParents.net or contact McConnell at 255-3741.

To report incidences of underage drinking, call the Washington County Sheriff’s Office anonymous tip line at 800-432-7303 or 255-3128, ext. 37.

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