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Underage drinking costs Nebraska $447 million

In these tough economic times, most people are watching where they spend their money, and it’s likely they wouldn’t be pleased to know that nearly $252 goes missing annually without them realizing it.

That money goes to cover the costs associated with the hospitalization, law enforcement work and even funerals of minors who consume alcohol.

According to the Nebraska Office of Highway Safety, underage drinking costs Nebraskans $447 million each year.

Alcohol is a contributing factor in nearly one-third of all fatal crashes nationwide involving drivers age 15 to 20. Each year, more than 4,300 young people are killed in car crashes while under the influence of alcohol, according to Highway Safety.

Problems such as these are the reason April has been declared National Alcohol Awareness Month by organizations focused on preventing alcohol abuse and underage drinking.

Becky Burks, project coordinator with Project Extra Mile, an underage drinking prevention group, said it’s good to raise the awareness of alcohol abuse with a designated month, but people need to realize that it is a year-round issue. Proms and graduations tend to bring up the subject of underage drinking, but there are events throughout the year where minors consuming alcohol is an issue, she said.

To help Project Extra Mile ramp up its awareness efforts, the organization’s youth group plans to go door-to-door distributing door hangers about the dram shop and social host laws, she said.

According to Highway Safety, under those laws, adults and/or retailers who provide or sell alcohol to a minor can be held liable in civil court if the intoxicated minor injures or kills someone.

Burks said the youth group will also attend this week’s Grand Island City Council meeting and ask the mayor to sign a proclamation concerning Alcohol Awareness Month.

“The kids come to the youth group meetings with great ideas,” she said. “They’re a real asset.”

To further reach adults with teens in their lives, Randy See, prevention project coordinator for the Grand Island Substance Abuse Prevention Coalition, is working with the Hall County attorney’s office to draft a letter to be sent to all the graduating seniors in Grand Island, telling them about the liquor liability laws.

“It’s one more piece of the system,” he said. “We work with schools, law enforcement, businesses.”

But underage drinking isn’t the only problem associated with alcohol.

See said the coalition received a state incentive grant to do strategic prevention and assessment of alcohol issues in the area. State officials wanted the coalition to focus on three main areas — alcohol use by people age 17 and younger; binge drinking, or having five or more drinks for men and four or more drinks for women per setting, in people ages 18 to 25; and alcohol-impaired driving in people of all ages — and see how each area applied to the communities served by the coalition, See said.

Members of the coalition began the process in November 2008 by interviewing local law enforcement officers and Hispanic community leaders, having focus groups, and holding town hall meetings, he said.

In addition to discussing the problems, the coalition members spoke to people in the community about the programs and strategies already in place to counter the effects of alcohol use. The list includes after-school programs, Think B4U Wink and other educational programs, and awareness classes, he said.

After gathering information, the group decided to focus on the teen drinking and DUI issues in Hall, Hamilton and Merrick counties, he said.

“Alcohol is the 600-pound gorilla in the room that everyone ignores,” See said.

It is the drug of choice for many people and, because it is legal once a person turns 21, its use is minimized in a way other drugs aren’t, he said.

“It is the No. 1 cause of death and destruction, compared to all other drugs combined,” he said.

Now that the problems have been defined, See said implementation of a plan is the second step. A plan is being written now, including continuing programs that are already in place and using the media to further educate the public, he said. The group also wants to look at how current and future programs can be sustained.

“The problem is not going to go away if a program goes away,” See said. “We want to focus on the social access to alcohol. Kids are getting alcohol from adults and older friends. We need to work to change that. A lot of negative things can happen when alcohol is involved.”

source: The Independent

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