Today, nearly 10.8 million youth, ages 12 to 20, are underage drinkers. The average age of first use in the United States is 10 to 11 years old, and most young people who start drinking before the age of 21 do so when they're 13 to 14 years old. In the Cassville area, the age of first use is 8 to 10 years old.
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, approximately 10 percent of 12-year- olds say they have used alcohol at least once. By the age of 15, that number soars to approximately 50 percent, and by the age of 18, at least 70 percent of teens say they've tried alcohol.
"Underage drinking is a serious problem nationally and locally," said Kati Rose, Community 2000 project director. "It's time to take action. It's time to tell children and teens that underage drinking is not okay. The discussion needs to start long before youth start thinking about drinking."
On Monday, March 31, area citizens will have the opportunity to join the discussion during a "Start Talking Before They Start Drinking" town hall meeting. The community forum will be held from 7 to 9 p.m. in the Casssville High School commons area. The evening's agenda will include a short video presentation and a panel discussion featuring five experts who will also be participate in a question and answer session with audience members.
The five panelists include: Joe Hodgins, supervisor of District 1 of the Missouri Division of Alcohol and Tobacco Control division, which oversees licensing of all businesses that sell liquor and enforces the state's liquor and tobacco laws; Missouri State Highway Patrol Trooper Les Wilson; Dr. Heidi Henderson, a professor at Crowder College Watley Center and an addiction and substance abuse expert; Nancy Foulke, a probation and parole officer assigned to Barry County; and Captain Dana Kammerlohr, a Barry County Sheriff's deputy and D.A.R.E officer for the Purdy, Wheaton, Southwest, Exeter and Shell Knob school districts.
The March 31 town hall meeting is sponsored by the Cassville Community 2000 Coalition and is open to all students, parents, teachers, elected officials, community leaders and other citizens who are interested in helping combat the problem of underage drinking. The purpose of the meeting is to increase awareness on the issue, identify how underage drinking affects the community and brainstorm possible solutions to the problem.
Hundreds of communities nationwide are hosting town hall meetings during the week of March 31 through April 4. The effort is underwritten by the federal government's Interagency Coordinating Committee for the Prevention of Underage Drinking (ICCPUD).
The meeting planned in Cassville will also include educational information on various programs, including Safe and Sober Prom, Safe Homes, the local Chain of Life effort, the Cassville Youth Advisory Board and SADD Chapter and Cassville Community 2000. Refreshments will be served by Wildcat Catering, a food service group organized by the CHS FACS Department.
All area residents are encouraged to attend the March 31 town hall meeting at Cassville High School. For more information, contact Kati Rose, Community 2000 Coalition project director, at 826-4008.