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Group lobbies for help to fight underage drinking

BISMARCK -- Groups trying to combat alcohol abuse among minors say they are fighting a $168 million a year problem with barely any funding to back them up.

Sen. Connie Triplett, D-Grand Forks, has proposed legislation to help fund their war chest and educate children and adults on alcohol and ways to prevents abuse and other problems that are associated with it.

Senate Bill 2241 proposes to take 25 percent of taxes collected from wholesale liquor sales in a biennium -- which would amount to about $4.6 million -- and allow the Department of Human Services to provide grants for organizations to implement programs.

"A large majority of what they do is volunteer work," Triplett told the Senate Human Service Committee last week when the bill was first heard. "There is so much good will and desire to solve this problem in the state, and it is a serious problem."

Bill Vasicek and David Frisch of the Grand Forks Substance Abuse Prevention Coalition, told the committee Monday federal funding has dried up over the past five years and coalitions fighting alcohol abuse issues around the state need help.

Vasicek pointed out while federal funding was going into Grand Forks programs from 2007 to 2010, public school students' surveyed use of alcohol dropped from 36 percent in 2006 to 16 percent in 2010. With no funding, that number went back up to 20 percent in 2012.

He cited the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation, a non-profit focused on social issues with alcohol and drugs, which found underage drinking alone costs North Dakota $168 million annually in medical costs, insurance among other areas.

"How do you fight that with no funding?" he said.

Frisch added the lack of funding is one problem, but the overall idea is to combat the largest problem head on.

"We want to reduce the problem with the products causing the problems," Frisch said.

Committee Chair Sen. Judy Lee, R-West Fargo, said she first plans on making sure no other bills contain funding for substance abuse grants, and is also concerned of the dedicated funding and total $4.6 million requested.

"We're going to focus on what their mission is and then what the appropriate funding would be," she said afterward, not guaranteeing any promises.

Sen. Tim Mathern, D-Fargo, has co-sponsored the bill. He said last week the programs that would receive grants from the bill provide a multifaceted approach to alcohol abuse problems.

"This bill is a real attempt to get to the beginning of this issue and do some work with the young people in terms of prevention," Mathern said. "Using this money in that regard is something I support 100 percent."