CARIBOU, Maine — Last spring, Aroostook County was one of only four sites in the nation selected to participate in a federal demonstration project geared toward keeping alcohol out of the hands of minors.
Now that the final wave of the “Underage Drinking. Adult Consequences” campaign is over, officials in the region are strategizing ways to build on the momentum they have gained over the past year in order to target more teens in the future.
The goal of the campaign was to limit youth access to alcohol, the No. 1 drug problem for County teens. The project was sponsored by the U.S. Department of Transportation and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
Community Voices, a countywide organization that works to curb substance abuse among youth, used a $325,000 NHTSA grant to work with the Aroostook County Sheriff’s Department and 10 other law enforcement organizations in The County on the pilot project to get alcohol out of the hands of minors. The funding helped police and community partners step up underage drinking enforcement and education efforts over the past nine months.
Michelle Plourde Chasse, Community Voices project manager, said on Tuesday evening that consultants are now pulling together data culled through six waves of the project.
Aroostook County Sheriff Jim Madore said the data was gathered through a combination of party patrol, surveillance, compliance and source investigation efforts. As a result, 276 underage alcohol-related violations have been issued since April 2012. Of these, 95 citations were for selling or furnishing alcohol to a minor, or furnishing a place for a minor to consume alcohol, according to the sheriff.
Plourde Chasse said that in concert with the funding, the grant had the added benefit of increasing awareness.
“People really saw the increased law enforcement presence out there doing these patrols and these compliance checks,” she said. “It brought increased awareness to the issue of underage drinking and all of the consequences that come with it. And it also showed the collaboration between different branches of law enforcement working together to address these issues.”
Both Madore and Chasse said that the number of local stores selling alcohol to minors remains a major problem in the area. In March 2011, for instance, 23 of 43 businesses from Macwahoc to Fort Kent sold alcohol to minors and were summoned for violations by the Sheriff’s Department. In November 2012, more than 70 percent of the 40 or so businesses that were checked by the department violated the law.
Madore said recently that compliance checks at local stores have revealed that “the retail setting remains a problematic arena for selling or serving alcohol to minors in Aroostook County.”
“We still have a big fight on our hands and will remain diligent in this arena of enforcement in the future,” he said.
Chasse said that Community Voices will continue to work to educate business owners and their employees about the risk and liabilities of selling and serving to minors.
At the same time, Community Voices is working with law enforcement to tap into other grant funding to continue the work they started last year.
“Keeping alcohol out of the hands of our youth is paramount,” said Chasse. “If we can conquer furnishing, we’ve conquered half the battle. We’ve paid close attention to retail sources, but equally of importance is the social setting in which alcohol is provided to minors. There are no good reasons to provide a young person with alcohol, and so many reasons not to. We keep reminding folks of the risks including alcohol poisoning, assault, sexual assault, unintended pregnancy, falls, accidents, drowning, suicide — all of which do happen here in Aroostook County. And not to forget addiction, for which the propensity increases the earlier a person starts to use alcohol.“