The very realistic fact that 11-years-old is the typical first time use for alcohol among teenagers is a great reason to host a Town Hall Meeting about teenage drinking.
Ozarka College was the site of this meeting March 18 hosted by the Hometown Health Coalition. Various speakers and a group of local teens presented the various sides of this very real issue in a vivid manner that left attendees with much needed knowledge to help combat teenage drinking.
A visual skit was performed by the Izard County Youth TAG (Teens Achieving Goals) team. Dressed in varying colored T-shirts labeled with various problems teens encounter such as peer pressure, the T-shirt "Alcohol" enters the group and the teenager pulls away from the shirts that labeled as important parts of her life, and began to hang out only with "Alcohol" at first the skit revealed they had fun together. Soon after, "Alcohol" was pushing and eventually directing everything in the teen's life. After the teen got rid of "Alcohol" and conquered it's grasp, she got her life and friends back.
The TAG group is comprised of students from Melbourne, Calico Rock and Izard County Consolidated Schools. They work with Izard County's Hometown Health Coalition's Substance Abuse Prevention Committee to combat substance use among youth. They volunteer in their prevention activities in their schools and communities.
Joe Grider, a prosecuting attorney from Pocahontas that also serves the Sharp County area spoke to the group about the legal side of teen alcohol abuse. He said in court he hears, "Well, we were having a few beers," in about 95 percent of the cases. Grider went on to explain the offenses and punishments for alcohol related offenses, which he said were not limited to DUI and DWI. Grider said a teen may be charged with DUI, if they blow a .02 to .08 on a breathalyzer. HE said the punishment includes losing their driver's license for 90 days for the first offense, but may still be able to get a restrictive work permit that would allow the offender only to drive to work or school. Crider said they may also face up to 10 days in jail. For the second offense DUI, teens face a one year license suspension, no restrictive work permit and for the third offense, the teen loses their license for three years or until they turn 21.
Crider said other alcohol related offenses include refusal to submit. He said many are under the false pretense that if they don't submit, they will avoid the DUI. While this is true, they still face license suspensions, but only more severe. The first offense is a 90 day suspension, the second is for up to one year and the third for three years or until the teen turns 21. Other legal topics discussed by Grider included enhancements, or possible additional charges including to those who provide alcohol to a minor, or if the teen is also involved in an accident with the DUI, while the offenses varied, Grider said the fines and penalties only increase if there is an enhancement to the DUI.
The "Social Host" law which was created in 2009 was also topic of a lot of audience discussion. This law was created to hold those allowing underage drinkers on their property, whether or not they provided the alcohol. Grider said the first offense is a Class C misdemeanor with up to 30 days in jail and fine of up to $1,000 with each subsequent offense escalating in seriousness leading to a possible Class D felony. This law was created after a prom party was held in a barn and no one could find parents responsible for the party and the numerous underage drinkers on the property. Grider said the law also has a section where it allows cities, as governmental entities to pass stronger ordinances at the city level to enforce this type of offenses.
Mike Smith, an insurance representative then spoke of the consequences of teen drinking in relation to elevated insurance costs to the families of offenders. He said while there are some discounts for grades and completion of a program, the insurance cost is based on a points system. He said if a teen is convicted of an alcohol related offense, all discounts are taken from the policy.
He said the highest points values are assigned to such offenses as DUI, DWI, leaving the scene of an accident and reckless driving. He said while the average teen policy for liability only is from $600 -$900 monthly with no reductions for grades or other considerations taken, the increase will be nearly twice to three times that amount if they are convicted of an alcohol offense. Smith said the offense stays on the driver's record for five years.
Next on the town hall meeting's agenda was Keith Gregson, a recovering alcoholic with Health Resources of Arkansas. He also does evaluations, counseling and offers referrals for Wilbur D. Mills Treatment Center in Searcy. Gregson spoke to the crowd about recognizing signs of teen alcohol or drug abuse. He said the best way to learn about a child's friends is to talk to the teachers about any child with questionable background. He said he has 14-17 year old clients. This age group, Gregson said, are more likely to become alcoholics than anyone else, because of their metabolism. Gregson offered referral resources for any parent or adult who feels they have a teen with an alcohol problem. He gave this number to the audience to contact for referrals and help 866-533-1761. Gregson said there are a variety of factors he considers when evaluating clients including, family history, the age the client was when they took their first drink, how much they drink and the amount of time elapsed since their last drink. Gregson utilizes these and other questions to determine their respective need for treatment options.
To end the meeting, Melbourne student Brandon Womack gave a presentation regarding the positive impact the media makes on glorifying alcohol use in both commercials and songs, including that of Brad Paisley's "Alcohol." Womack had some statistics to share with the audience that 8.6 million teens between the ages of 12-17 abuse alcohol, or one third of that age group. He said alcohol is the leading cause of death between 15-24 year olds and that one person every 20 minutes around the clock dies in an alcohol related accident.
The meeting concluded with gift certificates for Walmart being given away.