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Alcohol Use Among Youth Being Addressed
By Organizations in Bibb & DeKalb Counties

by Amanda Smith

Sandra Dean and Kevin Barrere

Teen alcohol use has been estimated to cause the death of 6,000 people per year according to the Institute of Medicine, National Research Council of the National Academies. Car crashes are the leading cause of death for teens and one out of three of those is alcohol-related, based on data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). According to a 2009 report by SAMSHA (Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration), of the 1,234,000 children age 12-20 years, 292,000 (23.6%) had used alcohol in the past month. 178,000 teens reported binge drinking during the 30-day period.

Reported on the website, alcohol travels through the bloodstream, damaging the brain, stomach, liver, kidneys and muscles. Teenagers, whose brains and bodies are still developing, are especially affected by alcohol use and abuse. Also according the Above the Influence, statistics show that more teens are killed by alcohol than by all illegal drugs combined.

To combat the devastation caused by underage drinking, two organizations, one in Bibb County and one in DeKalb County, Georgia, are addressing the rising use of alcohol by minors in their respective counties.

Sandra Dean formed DC PROMISE (DeKalb Community Peers Reaching Out and Modeling Intervention Strategies) in 2004 under the name Beyond the Bell and the Coalition to Prevent Underage Drinking. DC PROMISE works under a state contract to address issues and problems in the community related to underage drinking and the possession of alcohol by youth under the age of 21. This coalition assesses the community and produces data to show where problems exist and what programs should be put in place to address these issues. As a result of these assessments, several programs have been put in place that include:

• Compliance Checks - This program sends youth that appear under the age of 21 into convenience stores to see if store clerks will sell them alcohol. Individuals that look over 21 are also used as stores are supposed to ask for ID from anyone who looks under the age of 40.

• Shoulder Tap Surveys - This program plants workers under the age of 21 in store parking lots to loiter and ask adults to purchase alcohol (usually beer) for them in the store. If someone does, a marked law enforcement vehicle sweeps in and makes the arrest.

• Sticker Shocks - DC PROMISE goes into stores and attempts to obtain permission from the store owner or manager to put stickers on their alcoholic beverages, warning that it is illegal to purchase alcohol for a minor.

• Alcohol purchase surveys - Individuals in their early 20s that appear to be 16 or 17 years old are sent into bars and convenience stores to see if they can get employees to sell them alcohol without checking IDs.

• Roll Call Briefings - During shift change and with permission, DC PROMISE takes young people to talk to police officers about what they see going on in their community. This builds a good rapport and liaison between law enforcement and the youth in the community.

• Responsible Alcohol Sales and Service (RASS) - DC PROMISE workers go into bars and offer servers a training class on selling alcohol in bars. This is free of charge to the establishment's employees who have been in violation of the underage drinking law.

"All of our programs have been designed to meet the needs of the DeKalb community based on assessments," said Dean. "We also have a wonderful program in place called the Strengthening Families Program, a seven week curriculum for adolescents and parents. Parents learn how to nurture their kids and how to talk to them and kids learn how to tell their parents about peer pressure they may be facing and about what's going on with them," she continued. "This program improves communication and builds stronger bonds between youth and their parents or caregivers."

DC PROMISE is a spin-off organization of Beyond the Bell, Inc., which provides after school and summer programs for youth in DeKalb County, and which was created by Dean in 2002.

In Bibb County, Kevin Barrere is also actively seeking solutions to the problem of underage drinking. As Director of Macon Safe Decisions, the Drug Free Coalition of Bibb County, and along with Volunteer Macon, the organizations received a grant from the Office of Prevention Services and Programs (OSPS). The Georgia Strategic Prevention System (GA-SPS) grant, which has a focus on underage drinking, was just the beginning. Along with Project Coordinator Michael Yanosy, the groups are now in the process of producing a needs assessment in Bibb County that will include as many as 1,700 surveys throughout the community. This assessment will help Barrere to identify problem areas and then implement strategies that directly address the problem.

The GA-SPS program in Bibb County has three goals: reduce the early onset of drinking (ages 9-20); reduce access to alcohol and binge drinking among 9-20 year olds; and reduce binge and heavy drinking among 18-25 year olds. The Coalition will offer environmental strategies including TIPS training to individuals and businesses that provide alcohol to the public, covering topics such as checking IDs and not serving alcohol to intoxicated patrons. The training could give bar owners lower premiums on their liability insurance rates.

"The implementation of these programs is part of a larger statewide program that is based on data showing that alcohol is one of the most serious issues facing our youth and young adults today," said Barrere. "One in three automobile accident deaths are alcohol-related and Bibb County has been shown to be a high-need area of the state; this is why we received these grants and we are now taking action toward reducing underage drinking in Bibb County and across the state of Georgia."