Even though local merchants are cooperating with law enforcement, underage drinking persists in Union County and authorities say they will continue efforts to combat it and save young lives.
In a press conference Thursday afternoon at the Union County Annex Building, law enforcement personnel including Union County Sheriff David Taylor and Union Public Safety Director Sam White together with Sixteenth Circuit Alcohol Enforcement Team Coordinator Corree Carelock, and Union County Drug and Alcohol Abuse Commission Prevention Coodinator Josephine McBeth discussed the continuing problem of underage drinking. They discussed the efforts to combat the problem, the success that has been achieved, and the inauguration of the EASY (Eliminate Alcohol Sales to Youth) campaign to build on that success. They also discussed dangers that underage drinking poses, especially when combined with automobiles.
Carelock pointed out that in the past, beer had been the alcohol of choice for underage drinkers. Today, however, she said liquor has become the alcohol of choice. She said the result is that underage drinkers get drunk quicker than they did in the past and their inebriation is much greater because of what they are now drinking. She added that they are also drinking in larger quantities, including binge drinking which worsens the problem.
While the problem persists and has even worsened due to what’s being consumed, Carelock said the effort to combat underage drinking in Union County has experienced some very important successes. Carelock pointed out that there had recently been 25 compliance checks of local businesses that sell alcohol. The compliance checks involved an underage operative of local law enforcement going into an establishment and attempting to purchase alcohol. Carelock said that three years ago, 21.5 percent of the compliance checks ended in the undercover operative successfully making a purchase. Last year, there were successful purchases in only 12.5 percent of the attempts. This year, however, there were no successful purchases by the undercover operative.
Even though the sale of alcohol by local merchants to minors has ceased, the problem of underage drinking persists because, as Taylor and the others pointed out, minors are using other means to obtain alcohol. Taylor said that instead of buying it themselves, minors are often getting alcohol from older friends who can purchase it legally. He said his office is working to crackdown on this the same as it did the underage purchases of alcohol.
Illegal to begin with, Taylor said underage drinking is also a threat to the lives of those who participate in it and anyone who might cross their path, because many underage drinkers also drive while under the influence of alcohol. Taylor said that “today’s society is a mobile society,” with teens thinking nothing about getting into cars with friends on a daily basis and driving wherever they please. He said many also think nothing of doing so while consuming alcohol, thinking nothing will happen to them, but Taylor said they are putting themselves and others at risk by doing so.
White also discussed the persistence of underage drinking despite the best efforts of law enforcement to crackdown on the practice and the increased vigilance by business against attempts by minors to purchase alcohol. He pointed out that society often bombards youth with images and messages glamorizing alcohol consumption which he said can encourage minors to start drinking. What is not shown, White said, is how the combination of bad decisions, alcohol and more bad decisions resulting from the consumption of alcohol can ruin lives. He said educating young people about this reality could help prevent underage drinking.
Education leading to increased awareness of the reality and dangers of underage drinking and a commitment by the community to deal effectively with this problem is the goal of EASY and the organization which will be spearheading the effort, the Union County Coalition for a Health Community. Carelock said the coalition brings together the entire community to keep the issue of underage drinking at the forefront and to address it successfully with the goal of eliminating it completely.
“The Union County Coalition for a Health Community is made up of various sectors of the community whose mission is to keep our youth safe,” Carelock said. “Basically, you have the entire community, including law enforcement, rallying together to reduce youth access to alcohol.”
Carelock said the the Commission teaches a class that helps merchants understand the law regard underage drinking and how to avoid becoming a party to the violation of that law. One of the things the class stresses is the importance of checking identification and how to do so. It also stresses what to look for and what not to be fooled by when possibly dealing with a minor in the checkout line.
To sign up for the class, which is free, or for more information call the Union County Alcohol and Drug Abuse Commission at 429-1656. For more information about the Union County Coalition for a Healthy Community call 427-0668.