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Parish tackles alcohol abuse

Louisiana is known for its joie de vivre — its love of life. Unfortunately, for many, along with its many festivals, parties and good times also comes a love of alcohol.

According to state statistics, the people of St. Landry Parish do more than their share of drinking. The parish currently ranks among the top 12 parishes in the state for alcohol-related accidents and fatalities.

“We just can’t continue to say it’s just part of our culture and do nothing about it. Or worse, help it continue by providing access and ignoring the issue,” said J. Claude DeVillier with the St. Landry Parish Children and Youth Services Planning Board.

That board, working in conjunction with parish government, has just been awarded a $900,000 contract designed to attack the problem head on.

DeVillier said the group’s strategy includes targeting a number of festivals this year with increased drunk-driving checkpoints and stepped-up enforcement to make sure vendors are complying with the law, especially in terms of sales to minors.

The money also will be used to fund other drunk-driving checkpoints throughout the year and the purchase of enhanced equipment for the Sheriff’s Office to make sure drunk-driving arrests stand up in court.

As his group is concerned primarily about children and young adults, a number of awareness campaigns will be aimed at local schools.

DeVillier said his group has spent the past two years studying the problem and doesn’t like what it has seen.
A recent survey found that 24 percent of local eighth-grade

students, typically 13 to 14 years old, said acquiring alcohol is “very easy” or “sort of easy.” By the 10th grade, that number had increased to 71 percent.

Even more disturbing is the finding that 11.4 percent of local eighth-grade students considered drinking “cool.”

Some of this can be blamed on adults. The same survey found that 16.5 percent of local sixth-graders and 28.5 percent of eighth-graders said they personally know an adult who has gotten drunk in the past month.

Local students also ranked above the state average when asked if their parents would disapprove of their drinking, with 8.1 percent of local sixth-graders saying their parents wouldn’t mind, compared to 5.4 percent statewide.

“The common thread is the belief that there is little to no real risk or consequence for underage drinking or the disbelief that binge drinking is hurting our kids and young adults, in some cases killing them,” DeVillier said.

As a result, he said much of the grant will be used to target underage alcohol consumption and young adult binge drinking.

“Media campaigns, local informational meetings, presentations to youth through community stakeholders and schools and increased enforcement of the law are of the highest priority,” DeVillier said.

“This is a public-health approach to a public-health issue. The Children and Youth Services Planning Board prioritized the individual factors that lead to alcohol and steroid use, as well as social and retail availability,” DeVillier said.

He praised parish government for making the effort possible, saying Parish President Don Menard and his office worked closely with his board to conduct community assessments, readiness evaluations and finally a plan to address the abuse of alcohol and other substances in St. Landry Parish.

“Mr. Menard and the parish government put the safety and health of our youth at the top of the list and decided to do something about it,” DeVillier said.

“The St. Landry Parish Sheriff’s Department, St. Landry Parish School Board and other key leadership and community members will be working with us to implement the plan with St. Landry Parish government and the CYS board,” DeVillier said.

Menard was equally impressed with DeVillier. “We couldn’t have found a better person than Claude to handle this program. This should be good for all of St. Landry Parish,” Menard said.

DeVillier said the CYS board is a multidisciplinary group of community members and professionals who collaborate around service planning for healthier youth and children in our parish.

“All of the board’s meetings are open, public meetings. We encourage anyone who is interested in our mission to attend our meetings. We do ask that you RSVP before so that we can anticipate and accommodate any and all guests,” DeVillier said.

source: Daily World

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