Tuesday, June 22, 1999

Coalition to spotlight the dangers of underage drinking

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Twenty-year-old Tom Pyc can be found biking up and down the streets of Norwood these days.

        It's not that he particularly enjoys the exercise; it's because a judge suspended his driver's license last month after a conviction for driving under the influence of alcohol. A night of partying with high school buddies went too far.

        “It's a real problem with lots of kids,” Mr. Pyc said with the benefit of hindsight. “They just don't know how to handle it. They don't know when enough is enough.”

        To educate children and their parents about alcohol, the federal government has begun a $25 million education program. On Monday, Cincinnati's Northeast Community Challenge — a coalition of government, law enforcement and youth service organizations in Montgomery, Blue Ash and Sycamore Township — be came one of five groups in Ohio to receive $20,000.

        Each state gets free rein on what aspect of underage drinking it wishes to focus on. Ohio, under the guidance of Ohio Parents for Drug Free Youth, wants to teach kids the dangers of drinking when not behind the wheel of a car.

        Despite a wealth of school awareness programs, children as young as 10 continue to drink alcohol, said Dr. Loretta Novince, president of the coalition.

        According to an Ohio Department of Education survey, almost 80 percent of Ohio high school students have consumed alcohol. Thirty percent had five or more drinks in a row within the last 30 days. Five drinks is considered binge drinking.

        The coalition wants to target the people who give kids access to alcohol.

        “We've found plenty of programs focusing on the underage consum ers,” said Patricia Harmon, project director of Ohio Parents.

        “We want to get at the suppliers — liquor store owners not checking IDs, permissive parents who think they are doing the right thing by taking away the keys and giving their kids drinks. Alcohol is more than just a driving problem.”

        Dr. Novince, a developmental psychologist who deals with the problems of minors abusing alcohol, wants publicize the problem.

        “Kids are drinking younger than they ever have before, as early as the fourth grade,” she said. “The brain hasn't fully developed, and alcohol does irreparable damage.”

        But the main thrust of the campaign is a public relations drive focused at parents.

        “After all, any successful attempt to keep kids from alcohol begins and ends with the parents,” Ms. Harmon said.


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