Preventing underage drinking will save kids’ lives

Posted May 13, 2010, at 6:23 p.m.

As the end of the school year approaches, prom and graduation mark a time for celebration for youth in our community. Unfortunately, too often these celebrations have become dangerous rites of passage involving alcohol. One risky decision involving alcohol can result in tragedy for not only the young person, but also for his or her family, friends and our entire community as decades of potential years of life are lost.

According to the Maine Youth Drug and Alcohol Use Survey, over 63 percent of high school students in Penobscot County reported that they could easily get alcohol if they wanted to. We all have a stake in keeping alcohol out of the hands of teens.

Maine research shows that youth are less likely to drink when they think they would be caught by their parents or the police, or when they feel people in their community disapprove of underage drinking. Reinforcing these beliefs among youth by having open conversations about not drinking and taking steps to keep alcohol out of the reach of teens will help them to have a safer celebration.

It is our collective, community responsibility to keep our kids safe from alcohol-related injuries. We ask that you join us in the following ways to keep youth safe this prom and graduation season and throughout the year.

Store clerks and wait staff: Be especially diligent about carding during prom and graduation nights. Be on the lookout for suspicious behavior and report any underage drinking or furnishing concerns to the local police.

Law enforcement: Thanks are due to the many local police and sheriff departments that have adopted strict policies regarding underage drinking, and have scheduled underage drinking details for prom and graduation nights to search for parties and respond to reports of underage drinking.

Community members: Never purchase alcohol for youth. Help keep kids safe by calling your local police department with any underage drinking concerns. Your call can be anonymous and your tip could save a life.

Parents: Help teens plan a safe night by not serving or allowing alcohol at any party you are hosting. Although one-third of all alcohol-related deaths among youth are due to auto crashes, the other two-thirds are due to causes such as falls, burns, drowning, hypothermia and alcohol poisoning. Taking away the keys does not make underage drinking safe. Remember that in Maine it is not only illegal to provide alcohol to a minor, it is also illegal to provide a location for youth to consume alcohol. Be sure to share your expectations with the parents of your child’s friends.

Youth: Celebrate safely. Encourage your friends to celebrate without alcohol and find creative ways to have fun. Be sure to tell adults what we can do to help you have a night to remember for all the right reasons.

Let’s work together to provide a safe, alcohol-free season of celebrations for our sons and daughters. For more tips on keeping kids safe and preventing underage drinking, visit www.WhatYouDoMatters.org.

Shawn Yardley is the director of Bangor’s Health and Community Services. Ron Gastia is chief of the Bangor Police Department.

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