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Drugs & Alcohol Abuse brings many ills for youth

By ESTHER K. SMITH

News staff writer

February 11, 2006

If two heads are better than one for problem-solving, then think of what 170 heads can do.

That was the number of people who came together Thursday for a roundtable discussion on underage drinking. Professionals and representatives from the fields of school, youth, parents, health, law enforcement, faith, business, and decision making met to identify the problems and brainstorm on possible solutions.

After watching a short film on underage drinking, participants listened to a panel of experts describe the scope of the problem as they see it on a day-to-day basis.

The panel was made up of Judy Cobb, public health nurse for Hood River County and Jane Burke, ER nurse at Providence Hood River Memorial Hospital; Rachel Spigal, program manager at Mid Columbia Center for Living; Hood River Chief of Police Bruce Ludwig; and Rich Miller, OLCC inspector.

Cobb related statistics on the numbers of teens locally seeking birth control, which in 2005 was 391 (26 of whom were under the age of 15) and the prevalence of sexually transmitted diseases in Hood River County. She said that in the past five years the number of women infected with HIV has tripled.

“And we have also seen children with HIV,” she said.

Her office has also had incidents of reported rapes, and some that go unreported.

“It’s not unusual to have teens share with me that they’ve been raped,” she said. “Frequently it’s been after binge drinking. Many of them don’t understand the concept of date rape — they don’t realize that going out with a guy doesn’t obligate them to have sex with him.”

Burke shared statistics from alcohol-related cases she sees in the emergency room.

“We see less than 100 cases a year involving serious trauma, but of those, 30 percent are alcohol-related,” she said.

Spigal talked about the effect of alcohol on brain development.

“Binge drinking — five or more drinks — can stop or slow brain development,” she said. “The brain is still developing until the age of 21.”

She also talked about abuse can lead to dependence and tolerance and described the correlation between drug and alcohol abuse and mental health issues.

Ludwig said that the vast majority of cases to which the police are called don’t involve alcohol, but in cases where they make arrests, 50 percent have some sort of alcohol abuse factor.

“The reasons are inherent in what alcohol’s doing to your body: judgment goes down, reaction time is slowed, reasoning is affected, cooperation is reduced, antagonism is increased — and many times these cases result in the use of force,” the city police chief said.

“We don’t find many MIP (Minor In Possession) parties here in town — we’re more likely to hear about it or know about it,” Ludwig said. “But we do have our share of those. What I find particularly disturbing are those well-meaning parents who host those parties, to keep them in a safe place; keep their keys. They don’t realize it but they’re also breaking the law.”

Miller cited percentages of alcohol sales to minors, and said that statewide there was a 28 percent sales rate in 2005, compared to the 2003-05 sale average in Hood River of 34.5 percent.

Other ways teens get alcohol, he said, is by using false ID or borrowing an ID from someone who resembles them.

Following the expert panel, a youth panel also shared stories from personal experience or that of friends, and read statistics compiled by the Hood River County Commission on Children and Families and other agencies.

Armed with the information from the expert and youth panels, individual tables met to identify the five biggest problems regarding underage drinking, so that solutions could be worked out to address them. Each table had a representative for each of the fields attending, from youth to business to law enforcement, and a facilitator to keep the group on task.

In the end, all tables compared notes and came up with a consensus of the five biggest problems:

* Lack of activities for youth in the community (or youth not aware of current activities or cannot access) during high-risk times.

* Ease of access to alcohol (from businesses, parents, or from other young adults).

* Drinking is socially acceptable and part of our culture (rite of passage).

* Need for education for adults (support groups, drug/alcohol and parenting education, parent accountability).

* Prevalence of advertising.

After a quick lunch, the group reconvened to work out solutions.

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