Dervla Lacy: Curb drinking

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— The problem of underage drinking is pervasive within our country as well as our community. Routt County has the dubious distinction of leading Colorado in underage alcohol-related infractions, with averages well above national norms, as well. Routt County had the most minor in possession (MIP) and juvenile driving under the influence (DUI) violations in the state in 2005 and 2007. Additionally, underage youths in Routt County report above-average responses related to lifetime alcohol use, binge drinking and ease of obtainment of alcohol. These figures are alarming and eye-opening. It is clear from our local and national statistics that underage drinking is a crucial problem within our society.

Research has indicated that underage youths often procure alcohol at parties where parents and other adults have left them unsupervised. The Steamboat Springs Police Department recently published results from March 2009's alcohol compliance checks: 0 of 13 establishments checked sold alcohol to underage youths, representing a 100 percent compliance rate, as opposed to a 67 percent baseline compliance rate in 2005. As evident from these recent alcohol compliance check figures, underage youths in Steamboat Springs are not obtaining alcohol from our local liquor stores and bars.

Thus, if underage youths are not obtaining alcohol from liquor stores and bars, then how are they getting it? In a survey conducted among youths nationwide, youths reported that 53.4 percent of underage drinkers drank at someone else's home, while another 30.3 percent drank in their own home. Research shows that house parties are the No. 1 setting for binge drinking and other serious crimes, such as sexual assaults and other violence. Often, underage drinking parties occur on private property, but the adults responsible for the property are not present and/or cannot be shown to have furnished the alcohol.

The Social Host Ordinance as proposed by the Excellence Project, which is being considered by City Council on Tuesday, would help to combat underage drinking at house parties. The ordinance would provide a necessary tool for law enforcement to quickly discern the source of the alcohol at house parties. It also will serve as another layer to our community's current comprehensive program to combat and prevent underage drinking.

Similar ordinances are being proposed and adopted in jurisdictions across the country. These laws help to address the enormous problem of underage drinking within the U.S. and are recommended nationwide by many reputable tasks forces. If City Council adopts the proposed ordinance, our community would join numerous others who already have embraced this "tool" as a means to achieving the goal of reducing/preventing underage drinking. Additionally, council would send a clear message to our community that underage drinking is not tolerated within our city, thereby changing existing social norms.

To learn more about Social Host Ordinances, including the one being proposed to City Council, please visit our Web site, www.grandfutures.org, or contact me at 970-879-6188 or dervla@grandfutures.org.

Dervla Lacy

Routt County Director, Grand Futures Prevention Coalition

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