Police, residents label Buckley a 'drinking community' at town hall

Police officers, prevention counselors, treatment counselors and community members all referred to Buckley as a “drinking community” Thursday at a town hall meeting addressing underage drinking.

“My partner Sergeant Northam and I have been working together for five years, and we are seeing more of it,” said Buckley police officer Adam Garrett. Garrett is part of a task force addressing youth drinking on the Plateau.

“We are seeing kids younger and younger,” he said. “It’s very seasonal; spring and summer’s coming up, and we see more of it around prom and homecoming.”

One figure thrown out in a presentation by Kevin Markham was that the average age of a person’s first drink had fallen to 12 years old, from 17 in 1960. Markham is the administrator of Lakeside-Milam Recovery Centers, based in Federal Way, Wash.

That was just one fact that startled the audience at the meeting hosted by the White River School District’s Prevention Teams and funded by the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration through a $500 Reducing Underage Drinking grant.

Buckley’s Multi-Purpose center was nearly filled by parents, teen volunteers and community and government leaders to understand the factors and consequences of drinking in the Plateau community and especially Buckley.

The conference hall was decorated in posters made by teen volunteers. One pointed out that people who have a drink before age 15 are 40 percent more likely to be diagnosed as an addict at some point. Another read, “It is not safe to provide alcohol to your kids at home.”

A state-conducted Healthy Youth Survey of sixth-, eighth-, 10- and 12-graders from 2008 showed White River School District students as being above the state average in multiple categories related to alcohol consumption and attitudes. In categories asking whether students drank recently, frequently or heavily, the lower grades in the White River School District fluctuated closely above or below the state averages, but 12-graders consistently exceeded the state average by at least 5 percent. In a category asking whether students had drank while driving, 31 percent of 12-grade respondents answered in the affirmative, a full 8 percentage points higher than the state average.

“This is one of the times where we don’t want to be above the state,” said Mike Jacobsen, the assessment and curriculum director for the school district.

According to a chart of where students obtain alcohol, 39 percent of White River respondents wrote that they gave money to an adult. Twenty percent obtained it at home with permission from their parent. The state average for each category is 22 and 13 percent, respectively.

Reasons biological, legal and moral were brought up in the argument – repeated throughout the evening – that parents should not provide alcohol to their kids as a safe alternative to obtaining liquor outside the household.

“(At the teen years) our kids are moving from concrete to abstract reasoning,” Markham said. “So when a parent says ‘You can drink... but only at my house,’ a kid hears ‘If I can break that law, what law can I break next?’”

The town hall presented possible solutions along with the problems of underage drinking. Intervention specialists Janet Groves, Keren Smith and Prevention Services Coordinator and town hall emcee Herb Entz all performed skits to roleplay refusal and communication techniques. Glacier Middle School eighth-grader Andrea Entz and White River sophomore Kendra Caviezel both presented the benefits of refusing alcohol.

The audience shared solutions as well. Removing alcohol from the sports culture and providing pro-sobriety social events were both options presented by the audience. Kathleen Perrigo urged parents to send their kids to Alano on the Plateau, a sober youth group.

“If we can just provide a fun place for kids to hang out that doesn’t involve drinking, I think it will be a step in the right direction,” she said.

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