PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — The concern about underage drinking has intensified in Aroostook County in recent days, as four Presque Isle-area teenagers were taken to the hospital for treatment of suspected alcohol poisoning and other ailments after holiday parties.
Deputy Chief Laurie Kelly of the Presque Isle Police Department said Friday that two separate parties over the New Year’s holiday resulted in several teens being summoned for alcohol violations. One teenager passed out face down in the snow after becoming intoxicated at a party and had to be taken to The Aroostook Medical Center in Presque Isle to be treated for frostbite. Alcohol affects the body’s ability to regulate temperature, which can lead to hypothermia in some cases.
“These parties involved teenagers that were as young as 14 years old,” said Kelly. “They were mostly between 14 and 16 and they brought the alcohol from their homes or from friends’ homes. The ages of these kids just keeps getting younger and younger. It’s unbelievable.”
The Presque Isle Police Department keeps track of the number of youth they summon for underage drinking each month and also records related information such as the ages of the teenagers. That information is passed on to Community Voices, a countywide organization that works to curb substance abuse among youth. The organization is in the final wave of its “ Underage Drinking, Adult Consequences ” campaign, which began last April with the goal of limiting youth access to alcohol, the No. 1 drug problem for teens in The County. Aroostook County was one of only four sites in the nation selected to participate in the demonstration project sponsored by the U.S. Department of Transportation and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
Michelle Plourde Chasse, Community Voices project manager, said Friday that underage drinking can be even more dangerous this time of year, especially if a teen becomes so intoxicated that he or she cannot feel the effects of the cold or take care of themselves while out in the elements.
Kelly said that the teenagers involved in the latest incidents were summoned for illegal possession of alcohol by a minor or furnishing alcohol to a minor. Police also called all of the parents of the teenagers involved.
Sometimes, Kelly added, even that does not have much of an impact.
“We’ve had some cases where we have called the parents of a kid who has been drinking and asked that they come and pick up their child,” she said. “And the parents have told us that they can’t do it because they are too drunk to drive.”
The deputy chief said that she is seeing a larger number of girls engaging in underage drinking.
“I don’t think they realize all of the risks that are involved,” she said Friday. “Young girls tend to weigh less, so the alcohol has a greater effect on them. There is also the risk for sexual assault, unprotected sex and more.”
Chasse said that the events of the past few days have prompted Community Voices to remind youth and adults of the dangers of mixing alcohol and cold weather recreation.
“Each year we see people operating snowmobiles while under the influence of alcohol,” she said. “But there is also the risk of people outside snowshoeing and skiing while they have been drinking. People don’t realize how dangerous that can be.”