An issue we can't afford to ignore

Thursday, April 16, 2009

April is Alcohol Awareness Month and this week, Cassville Community 2000 Coalition sponsored a town hall meeting to discuss teenage alcohol and drug abuse. This is the second year in a row that the Coalition has sponsored a town hall meeting on this subject, and we are glad this local organization has taken the lead in keeping this issue out in front of the public eye. Too often people would like to ignore the problem, which continues to be one of the major obstacles that causes our young people to stumble and lose sight of their potential. It's an issue that most people would rather not discuss in the hopes that it will just go away.

For those who wonder whether alcohol really is that big of a problem among teenagers, let me assure you it is. Alcohol is the number one drug of choice among today's youth and is the fourth leading cause of death among teenagers. Young people who begin drinking before the age of 15 are five times as likely to develop alcohol dependance as those who wait until they turn 21. In Missouri and locally, youth begin drinking even earlier than the 15-year-old benchmark. The average age of first use here and statewide is 12. Another problem among teenage drinkers is that they tend to consume large amounts of alcohol in one sitting, which is referred to as binge drinking.

Some people may think this is an issue that only concerns parents of teenagers or school personnel, but it is an issue that the entire community should be concerned with. We need to work together to take a stand so that young people realize that teenage drinking is not a rite of passage that adults will ignore but instead teenage drinking is illegal and will not be tolerated.

In recent years, police officers and others in the law enforcement community have been cracking down harder on teenage drinking. For example, the Cassville City Council passed a minor in possession by consumption law and also a house party law that holds adults responsible for gatherings in their home or on their property where teenagers are consuming alcohol. Barry County Prosecutor Johnnie Cox has also been a strong voice toward this end, charging two Monett men under the new state "house party" law last year for hosting a party where an area teenager died from alcohol poisoning. The man who actually gave the liquor to the young woman was charged with manslaughter and pleaded guilty to the crime just last month. Actions such as these act as deterrents to those who are considering hosting a party with underage youth in attendance. It makes people accountable for their actions, and we are proud of our community leaders who have chosen to champion this issue.

It really does take all of us working together to change community norms, and fighting underage drinking is a very worthy cause. As you drive down Main Street in Cassville, you can't help but notice the black and gold Wildcat banners. At first glance, they appear to be promoting school spirit, but on closer examination, you will notice they are emblazoned with anti-drinking messages aimed at our area youth. This is just another way the Cassville Community 2000 Coalition has chosen to spread its very important message. It's a message we hope this community is paying attention to, and a message we believe can save young lives and help provide our young people with the information they need to make good choices in life.

Lisa Schlichtman