Program denies youth access to alcohol

12 years ago

By Barbara Scott
Staff Writer

“Some may ask, ‘what’s the big deal about it?’” said District Attorney Todd Collins, “I’ll tell you — it is a big deal.

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Aroostook Republican photo/Barb Scott
Aroostook County law enforcement agencies met April 12 in Caribou, in support of the Youth Access to Alcohol pilot program currently underway, sponsored by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and Community Voices. Seated in front, from left are: Carol Bell, project director, ACAP Healthy Aroostook program; Michelle Plourde Chasse, Community Voices; Felicia Moss, project director, ACAP Healthy Aroostook program; and Laura Adams, Caribou Police Department. In back are: Presque Isle Chief of Police Matt Irwin; District Attorney Todd Collins; Ashland Police Chief Cyr Martin; Houlton Police Chief Butch Asselin; Maine State Police Lieutenant Mark Brooks; Caribou Chief of Police Michael Gahagan; Maine Warden Service Lieutenant Thomas Ward; Aroostook County Sheriff James Madore; Aroostook County Sheriff Chief Deputy Craig Clossey; Washburn Police Chief Douglas Conroy; Mark Albert, member of Community Voices; Madawaska Police chief Carroll Theriault; and Fort Kent Police Chief Kenneth Michaud.

“A 1965 study showed that the average age of juveniles consuming alcohol for the first time was 17 and a-half; in 2003 that average age dropped to 14 years of age,” Collins stated. “How does one under the age of 21 get access to alcohol? In a 2003 U.S. study, 62 percent of eighth-grade students involved in that study said that it was very easy to obtain alcohol and 92 percent of 18-year-olds agreed that it was very easy.”

On April 12 area law enforcement agencies met with Collins to put into effect a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration sponsored Youth Access to Alcohol pilot project.

Aroostook County was one of the four sites selected in the nation to participate in the demonstration program, aiming to enforce the limitation of youth access to alcohol, stated to be the number one teen drug abuse problem in the County.

Community Voices, a county-wide organization involved in working to eliminate drug/alcohol abuse by area youth, received a $325,000 grant providing funding to work with 11 law enforcement groups in the County to fight against the availability of alcohol to youths.

Caribou Police Chief Michael Gahagan stated “This is a problem throughout the County and when we can gather forces it is very beneficial.”

During the conference Collins stated that alcohol abuse results in $184 billion a year in health care costs, losses to businesses and criminal justice incurred costs — $52.8 billion was attributed to underage drinking.

In 2010 the state suffered $209 million in consequences from juvenile use of alcohol that included healthcare, vehicle accidents and property damages.

“Underage drinking is also responsible for medical costs related to binge drinking, high-risk sexual activity, fetal-alcohol syndrome and teenage pregnancies — resulting in essence — with a child of a child,” said Collins.

Michelle Plourde Chasse, Community Voices project manager stated that the new program will reach youth at an earlier age, alerting them to the dangers of alcohol consumption and driving impaired.

Collins enforced the necessity of getting through to juveniles at an early age, citing that 13 million youth admitting to using alcohol before the age of 21; those who started drinking before the age of 15 are five times more likely to abuse alcohol, suffering greater consequences.

Through the pilot program law enforcement agencies throughout the County are currently seeking to disrupt the access of alcohol by minors. Underage consumers and any adult who supplied the alcohol will be held responsible for his/her actions.

With spring vacations currently going on and graduations within several weeks, parents/guardians and retailers are reminded that it is not OK to provide alcohol to youth, even if it is served within a private dwelling.

“It has been my experience,” said Washburn Chief of Police Doug Conroy, “ that a lot of parents view alcohol as non-drug, often seen not as dangerous as those drugs that they read about in the newspapers.”

“The new campaign will let communities know that we will hold irresponsible adults accountable,” said Collins. “Police will be more visible and there will be increased patrols. As communities we have to stand strong“

Strengthening the conviction of this program and bringing about even more awareness of the youth alcohol access problem and its consequences, a TV campaign, radio ads and social media messages will also be in place.

“I don’t know why but it seems like youth want to grow up faster — maybe they think they will get to adulthood quicker if they take a  drink,” said Collins.

“I do want to say,” added the District Attorney, “We do have a lot of kids who don’t drink and who are doing great things in their communities.”