Thursday session to focus on teen drinking issues

With prom, graduation and spring break around the corner, the White River Prevention Team, adults and students, will host a town hall meeting on underage drinking Thursday at the Buckley Multi-Purpose Center, 811 Main St.

The evening, which also involves Rachel’s Challenge program students from Glacier Middle School and White River High, begins at 6 p.m. with a free dinner. Childcare is provided for the evening, which is expected to wrap up around 8 p.m. For information, call 360-829-5852.

Response to a similar meeting two years ago was good, but team members say it’s time to do it again.

The meeting is funded by a federal grant through the Washington State Coalition to Reduce Underage Drinking.

“These town hall meetings are going on all over the state. Now’s the time,” said Keren Smith, White River School District drug and alcohol intervention specialist and Prevention Team member.

“We’re seeing a rise in teen drug and alcohol use,” Smith said. The group said some of it may be due to economic stress factors, but they also attribute the rise in the district’s proactive stance and support

For this meeting, the group is planning fewer presentations and more discussion.

“A big part of this meeting will be what can we do,” Prevention Team member Herb Entz said. “Come help us brainstorm how we can solve this problem.”

The team will present information and statistics, some from the 2008 Healthy Youth Survey. The Healthy Youth Survey is a collaborative effort of the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction, the Department of Health, the Department of Social and Health Service’s Division of Behavioral and Health and Recovery, Family Policy Council, Department of Commerce and Liquor Control Board.

Results from 2008, which were nearly identical for both White River and Enumclaw school districts, note more than 46 percent of 12th-grade students report having a drink in the past month. Approximately 30 percent of students reported drinking heavily – having five or more drinks in a row – at least once in the past two weeks.

About 30 percent of 12th-grade students reported riding in a vehicle with a driver who had been drinking.

The survey also notes most students get their alcohol from friends, gave someone money, at a party or at home with permission.

Part of the plan is to encouraging local businesses to remove alcohol advertising signs and put an anti-drinking message on reader boards once a month and to continue its campaign against favorable attitudes toward underage drinking.

On the positive side, the Healthy Youth Survey showed most eighth- through 12th-grade students report their parents have clear rules about alcohol use.

The percent of kids who report their parents think its very wrong for them to drink regularly hovers near 48 percent.

More than 60 percent of eight-grade students believe their parents would catch them if the drank alcohol, but only 33 percent of 12th grade students think the same way.

“Our community ranks among the highest in the state when it comes to our teenagers believing the adults in the community think it’s OK to drink,” Entz said.

The team also plans to present data that supports healthy lifestyle choices.

Alcohol kills more youth than tobacco and illicit drugs combined, the group notes. Regular alcohol use, they said, damages young brains causing students to score lower in school and show reduced interest.

Brain and organs are not developed until age 25, Smith said. Addiction, she continued, is also less likely after age 21.

“Addiction in a teen takes six months, in an adult it takes six years,” Smith said.

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