Alcohol prevention and reduction
Alcohol statistics for underage drinking are staggering, and only getting worse.
The death toll of Americans killed in the Iraq war hit 4,000 this week and was publicized in full force. But, Laurie Mullen, executive director of Western Area City County Cooperative, pointed out, in the last five years, 25,000 youth have died due to alcohol related accidents.
"If we were talking about those numbers, there'd be a public outcry, something needs to be done," she said.
"Not to take anything away from those that have lost loved members in the war, but in the same sense, a mother that loses her son or daughter in a traffic fatality doesn't love that child any less than if her child had been killed in the war."
Some teens, and adults for that matter, may think alcohol is fun and makes you feel funny, but it's also deadly, ruins lives and can lead to a lifetime of alcoholism.
Thursday, April 10, Western Area City County Cooperative and the City of Frazee hosts a town hall meeting to discuss action to prevent and reduce underage drinking. April is Alcohol Awareness Month.
Starting at 7 p.m. in the Frazee Event Center, a panel of speakers will discuss how alcohol has affected their lives and what resources are available to help curb growing trends. The meeting is for both adults and teens.
The panel of speakers includes a mother, a driver, a counselor and more.
Judy Bradow's daughter, Jenny, was killed in 1993 after a drunk driver hit her. He was celebrating his sentence completion from a previous DWI conviction.
"I cried the last time I heard her talk," Mullen said, "and how she was talking to her daughter and they said that her daughter couldn't hear her or understand her because every bone in her body was broken. But as she held her daughter before she died, she was talking to her and her daughter started crying. The doctors said that she wasn't able to hear, but Judy goes, 'I don't believe that, she does.'"
Andrea Stordahl has experienced alcohol from the other side of the coin. After an evening of drinking with friends, she was involved in a head-on crash and charged with two felony counts of criminal vehicular operation resulting in great bodily harm. She had sent a student to the hospital with massive head trauma, and herself to jail for nine months.
Curt Walvatne was sober for 29 years, took a drink and ended up with three DUIs in 21 months and time in jail. He has a master's degree in guidance and counseling.
Bill Iverson, an intervention coordinator with the Lost and Found Ministry, will share resources available; Frazee Police Chief Mike Lorsung will speak on how vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for people ages 15 to 20, and Frazee Liquor Store Manager John Smith will speak about liquor trends.
"These messages are important to get out to parents. It's the No. 1 killer of kids," Mullen said of alcohol.
If a student starts drinking at age 15, she said, the kid is five times more likely to become an alcoholic than those that wait until after they are 21 years old.
Those statistics aren't improving either. Good news is that illegal drug use has declined in this region, but the bad news is the alcohol use has in fact increased. And the alcohol use is getting stronger.
"What's changing, too, is the trends in what people are drinking," she said. At 50, she said her generation drank beer. Now, kids are going for the harder liquor.
"I know now that what kids are drinking are the fruity drinks, and the hard liquor. The binge drinking is on the increase."
Three factors are making it easier and easier for kids to get alcohol -- money, vehicles and less supervision.
Teens are getting jobs and vehicles, giving them extra money and a means to drive to friends' houses or parties.
She said many kids with problems with alcohol are either from families where both parents are working or from single parent families with that one parent working.
"So, it's unsupervised time at home," she said.
"You combine those three things -- unsupervised, a vehicle and disposable income to be able to purchase liquor -- it adds some other components that weren't there when I was growing up," she said.
To help reduce the number of alcohol-related deaths, informing the community and having parents talk to their children early is key.
"Statistics say we need to start talking to our kids (about alcohol) at 9 years of age," she said.
During presentations on meth in the region a couple years ago, she said, people told her age 9 was when they started using drugs.
"I think that we need to be talking about it at home earlier. Parents need to know some of the facts. I think we need to talk to the kids about their development and how alcohol impacts their brain."
And just because someone drinks and chooses to ride with someone else rather than drive doesn't mean they are safe either.
"Two-thirds of the kids that die in these accidents were passengers," she said. "They need to be making their friends aware that their driving behavior (is dangerous) -- driving too fast, driving with distractions, fiddling with the radio, text messaging..."
And for teens, the danger and likelihood of an accident increases with the number of passengers they have in the car.
"Those are all things to be talking with these kids about, too," she said.