Campaign targets underage drinking

Local organizations are targeting the issue of 'social hosting' to discourage underage drinking. Parents may think it's safer to supervise parties, but those events put children at risk of making poor choices, local advocates say. A study found 18% of Allen County students reported using alcohol in the past 30 days.

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December 3, 2020 - 9:59 AM

This billboard will soon appear near U.S. 54 and Kentucky Street. Courtesy photo

Allen County students are using more alcohol and drugs than their peers across the state, according to a study from the Greenbush Education Cooperative.

That sometimes occurs at parties and events hosted by an older adult, who may believe it’s better to provide a location where such behavior can be supervised.

Local organizations are targeting the issue of “social hosting” to discourage activities that encourage poor choices like underage drinking.

“While some might believe that hosting a party at their house provides a ‘safe’ way for ‘kids to be kids,’ the truth is that adults put teens at risk by allowing parties with alcohol to happen, even if the adults take the car keys and make them stay the night,” Jessica McGinnis said. 

McGinnis is the Drug Free Community coordinator for the Allen County Multi-Agency Team and the Southeast Kansas Mental Health Center.

A billboard about social hosting will soon appear near the intersection of U.S. 54 and Kentucky. It reminds passers-by they could face a fine of up to $1,000 for hosting an underage drinking party. It is sponsored by ACMAT, the SEK mental health center and Thrive Allen County.

A “social host” is someone 21 or older who allows underage drinking to occur on property they are responsible for, McGinnis said.

Social hosting provides an environment where children may feel comfortable drinking or using drugs, she said, which can lead to making poor choices while under the influence and causing harm to young developing brains. There are also risks associated with binge drinking, which could lead to death.

Teenagers face many difficult choices, McGinnis said, and the decision whether to consume alcohol or other drugs is one of the most important choices that could affect both their present and their future.

“While the choice to drink underage is ultimately their own, the adults of our communities have the responsibility to help educate, support, and guide them to make the best choices that they can,” McGinnis said.

THE KANSAS Communities that Care (KCTC) Student Survey, which is administered by Greenbush, found the top three concerns for Allen County students were alcohol use, binge drinking and e-cigarette use.

Greenbush’s Dawn Flores gave a presentation on the survey to ACMAT members Tuesday.

The survey asks students in grades 6, 8, 10 and 12 to answer questions about drug and alcohol use, then compares to answers to prior years and the state average. 

Allen County students reported such things as if they had used a substance within the past 30 days. The survey showed 18% of all Allen County students reported they had used alcohol (beer, wine or hard liquor) at least once in the past 30 days, and 10.25% reported binge drinking. The survey shows 13.5% of students reported using e-cigarettes. 

All of those numbers have declined since 2016 but still exceed the state averages. 

Other results show that 3.15% of students used cigarettes in the past 30 days, 6.05% used marijuana (slightly below the state average) and 4.15% misused prescription drugs.

ANOTHER notable finding of the survey indicates a shift in youth’s attitudes about marijuana, particularly as more states have legalized the substance.

Students were asked how much they think drug and alcohol use harms people, and also how much they think their peers and parents would disapprove if they used drugs and alcohol.

In general, students ranked marijuana use as least likely to harm them, and least likely to earn disapproval from peers and parents. 

They all ranked misuse of prescription drugs as most harmful, followed by cigarettes and alcohol use. 

As students aged, their opinions of the risk of harm changed. Students ranked alcohol, cigarettes and prescription drug misuse as more harmful as grade levels increased. 

For example, 74% of sixth graders ranked alcohol use as delivering moderate or great risk of harm, compared to 79.1% of 12th graders. When it came to cigarettes, 76.3% of sixth graders believed it to be harmful compared to 88.2% of 12th graders. Regarding prescription drug misuse, 80% of sixth graders thought it was very harmful compared to 88.3% of 12th graders.

But as grade levels increased, fewer students viewed marijuana as harmful (from 67.9% in sixth grade to 51.2% in 12th grade). 

“That’s not uncommon across the state,” Flores said. “We aren’t exactly sure why that is, but legalization is probably one of the biggest factors.”

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