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County looks at new strategies to curb youth drinking

Efforts include the Sticker Shock campaign, which puts reminders on alcoholic beverages in participating stores


by: PHOTO COURTESY OF ALEX BITZ - The following stickers were placed on alcoholic beverage containers to remind those purchasing the drinks that it is illegal to provide them to youth under the age of 21.

Crook County still has an underage drinking problem.

One need only consider the results of a community assessment that was conducted by Human Services and health department staff to reach that conclusion. The assessment included a survey that aimed to determine both the use of alcohol by underage residents and the attitude and perceptions of local adults on underage drinking. Questions were scored on a 1-9 scale, with 9 representing the most favorable results.

“The scores ranged from 2.4 to 4.4, with an average of 3.1,” said Human Services Director Brenda Comini. “In general, what that tells us is there is a local problem, but no immediate motivation to pursue change.”

She added that the lowest scores on the survey related to community attitude toward underage drinking.

“We may not have a motivation unless something serious happens, such as a death or serious accident,” Comini lamented.

The data has encouraged community leaders to consider new methods of not only discouraging youth from drinking, but stressing to parents and other adults how serious the consequences of underage drinking can be.

“It gave us some areas to improve,” Comini said. She noted that the community needs to increase the awareness of the consequences of underage drinking as well as the knowledge of existing community efforts and programs that seek to reduce its prevalence. In addition, she believes a heightened emphasis on community leadership and investment in reducing underage drinking is necessary.

Work has already begun to raise the awareness of existing programs through the use of Facebook and improvement of coordination among other community leaders and residents. When it comes to imparting the consequences, they intend to share with the public how alcohol affects children, and how it can prevent students from completing school or cause them to end up in the juvenile justice system.

One of the most recent efforts is designed to get the attention of adults the moment they make an alcohol purchase. The Sticker Shock Campaign, recently launched in several retail outlets in Prineville, aims to remind parents and other adults that supplying alcohol to minors or failing to secure it and keep it out of their hands violates the law.

“We do have some parents who knowingly provide,” Comini said, based upon survey answers from local students. “We have some who aren’t tracking that second refrigerator out on the patio that is kept stocked.”

The sticker, which was attached to alcoholic beverages at willing retailers, reads, “We won’t. It’s illegal to provide alcohol to people under 21. So please don’t.”

Prineville Police Sergeant Ray Cuellar explained that the intent behind the campaign is geared toward raising awareness, not seeking lawbreakers.

“By supporting this program, you will be working as part of a community effort,” he wrote in a letter addressed to local businesses, “and will be sending a clear message that your establishment does not promote or endorse the sale of alcohol to anyone under 21.”

Crook County Juvenile Department Director Debra Patterson recently voiced her support of the campaign and hopes it will diminish the prevalence of youth drinking.

“I have worked with youth and families for more than 25 years,” she said. “I am acutely aware that underage drinking contributes to a host of serious problems including homicide, suicide, traumatic injury, drownings, burns, crime, high risk sex, fetal alcohol syndrome, and alcohol poisoning as well as alcohol abuse and dependence.”

Future strategies will likely include more educational material stressing the need for adults to secure their alcohol as well as quotes from community members speaking out against underage drinking.

“I don’t think there is any silver bullet fix to this,” Comini said. “We are trying to put a set of tools out there and be ready for however we can help share the message that underage drinking is not OK.”



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