Underage Drinking and Drugs

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Vermont has been ranked the healthiest state in the nation. But it also ranks highest among the states for underage alcohol and marijuana use, and second-highest for underage binge drinking, according to a Federally-backed health survey. Jane Lindholm talks about what’s behind the data with Marcia LaPlante, Prevention Chief for the state’s Division of Alcohol and Drug Abuse Programs. And Lori Augustyniak, Director of the Cabot Coalition, fills us in on what communities are doing to combat the problem and provide healthier alternatives. (Listen)

Also on the program, building green on a tight budget. We talk with Builder and designer Fernando Pages Ruiz. He says building high quality, environmentally-friendly homes doesn’t have to come with a high price tag. (Listen)



From Jennifer Flannery, Executive Director of the Collaborative in Manchester
The Collaborative, a substance abuse prevention coalition in Manchester, recently partnered with six area schools to engage 400 teens and 400 adults in inter-generational dialogue nights on the topic of underage drinking and how youth and adults can work together to prevent it. The discussions were part of the Refuse to Use Program, a partnership between The Collaborative, six schools, Stratton Mountain Resort, Riley Rink and Viking Nordic Center. In Refuse To Use teens pledge to be substance free and attend five prevention education events, in exchange they are awarded a pass to one of the recreation centers. Education events cover marijuana, alcohol, tobacco and other drugs, plus refusal skills and healthy alternatives.

From Angela Shea in Montpelier
Tonight at U-32 High School in Montpelier we are hosting a "dialogue night" where parents, tudents, staff and community members come together to discuss the issues teens face, such as peer pressure, drinking, smoking, stress and healthy relationships. We believe that dialogue and discussion are great ways to open minds and hearts about the severity of these complex issues.

I work as the Student Assistance Counselor at U-32 and in addition to meeting with kids individually, I also organize a group around leadership and prevention initiatives. The idea is to build on self esteem, character and relationships so that youth will have the skills to make healthy decisions on a regular basis.

It’s great to hear that you are discussing this topic on your show! The more we talk, the more we’ll understand.

From a Listener in Newbury
If the basis for the underage alcohol and marijuana use is the health survey taken by Vermont’s high schoolers, it might be instructive to ask a few students how seriously they take that survey. As the parent of five children, I can tell you that for many years the survey has been considered a joke by all kinds of students, both straight-A class leaders and the worst cut-ups. Just last week, our 11th grader reported hearing a boy in her class announce that, according to his responses, he was a heroin addict who achieved straight A’s. (He was neither.) Friends report hearing similar stories from their children.

Before the administration spends too much time and money responding to the horrifying "riskful behavior" our youth are reporting, they might try adding one question at the end of the survey:
Did you answer this survey truthfully?

From Larry in Burlington
I would like to mention the very timely and important topic of pending legislation. There are currently three House bills introduced: lowering drinking age to 18; decriminalizing an ounce or less of marijuana to a civil fine – both of which fly in the face of recommendations suggested by the data. The third bill has to do with reclassifying flavored malt beverages — a good idea.

An equally important measure that has not been introduced is increasing the taxes on alcoholic beverages. Although our Governor is adamantly opposed to any tax increase, it’s my real hope that in these severe economic times, Vermont might find the political courage to increase alcohol taxes, especially given the proven negative elasticity of demand related to price among youth. A case in point is what happened with cigarettes. But where the tobacco industry no longer has its former power, the beverage industry very much still does in Vermont.

Beth Crane, Franklin County Caring Communities
After several years of decreasing use, the last Youth Risk Behavior
Survey (2007) showed an upturn in underage alcohol use and stagnation in
other areas. Our coalition response has been to put significant esources into underage and high risk alcohol use and to broaden our approach to include more trategies that address policy change, enforcement, and efforts to shift the culture away from assumptions that underage alcohol use is a basically a harmless rite of passage and a social necessity.

We are working closely with our state police, schools, parents, and youth to change norms. In town hall meetings and other venues, the message our communities are giving us is that prevention has to start well before middle school. In response to this message, we are working with our elementary schools to introduce a curriculum to inculcate children in grades 1-5 with the knowledge and skills to protect themselves and their brains. We are also offering programs to support parents in establishing boundaries and expectations for their children. We are also conducting public awareness efforts around social host laws and the fact that many youth get their alcohol from home without their parents’ consent.

To address both underage and high-risk drinking among the 18 and up population, we are working with our VSP barracks to increase DUI patrols. Our aim is to increase the perception of risk associated with drinking and driving.

With respect to other substance use, our local hospital, Northwestern Medical Center, has taken the lead on an effort to reduce the availability, diversion, and misuse of prescription drugs. A ulti-disciplinary chronic pain/narcotics forum has been meeting over the past two years to address this issue. Last year the St. Albans City Police began a perscription drug collection program in collaboration with NMC. .

Marijuana is also a challenge. Right now our primary focus is on alcohol, because of its arly use and prevalence, and prescription drug use, because of its connection to property crime, street drugs, and rapid addiction, but we recognize the need to change norms around marijuana, which is regarded by many as the safer alternative.

From Michael in Rutland
What role do you think advertising plays in underage drinking and can the state do anything about it? I often wonder who the intended audience is when I see animated creatures pushing the sale of beer on TV during sporting events.

What are your thoughts about the recent push, led by former Middlebury President John McCardell, to lower the drinking age as a means of combating underage drinking? Aren’t there studies that suggest that lowering the drinking age will mean that kids who are trying alcohol now at the age of 16-18 would instead be trying drinking at a younger age?

From Jen in Bridport
In our family all our questions were answered and we had open discussions with our parents about their experiences. As the oldest of four, (the youngest 22 and in college) I can say that I believe having this open dialogue and not making it a black and white issue was the key to all of us not being driven to drink when we had the chance. I spent my high school years taking care of my friends who didn’t have the background that I did. I think if we stopped making drinking such a no-no and did more for education — starting in the home — we would see a difference. Schools and outside groups can only do so much of what parents should be doing. I’m also the parent of two young children I plan on being open with my girls about my past with drinking, just as my parents were, and have confidence that they will make responsible decisions.

From Will In Burlington
Since this is a survey where the use is self reported, how do we know that kids in Vermont are not just more honest?

From Susan in Burlington
I went to a mayoral candidate debate and a question was asked about how to keep teens busy as a way to keep them from getting into trouble with drugs and alcohol. Candidate Andy ontroll suggested a library annex where teens could go and use the internet. I liked this idea and would like to hear others like it. I truly believe that if we keep kids active and give them places to go, such as movie nights or coffee houses to meet and play music, we can help working parents keep their teens busy and off drugs. In other words, they need to be given fun alternatives to zoning out on drugs and alcohol because they are just plain bored.

From Fred in Windsor
Lowering the drinking age was tried in the 60’s or late 70’s and was a disaster. As far as Marijuana, anything that can be grown locally will never be controlled. It might as well be legal.

From J.C.
I stopped drinking about twenty years ago and have since developed an awareness of the way alcohol pervades our culture. I suggest that high rates of underage use result in large part from he high rate of use among adults. All age groups need to consciously explore alcohol and drug-free night life options. As it is now, our small Vermont towns typically offer exclusively alcohol-elated activities after 9pm.

From Brian Keith, Director of Caledonia County Court Diversion
Statewide, the number of referrals to the Alcohol Safety Program (administered in each of the 14 counties by the local county Court Diversion Program) has been steadily declining since FY ’05 Locally, and in my discussions with fellow Court Diversion directors across the state, we see indications that the downward trend is continuing, and yet we all know that the underage use of alcohol is not declining. I am concerned that the declining referrals may be linked to a corresponding decline in adequate funding for our state’s local law enforcement agencies to address this need, and am wondering if you could address this issue.

From a listener in White River Junction
I’m a parent of a student with learning disabilities and ADHD, which carry with them increased risk for drug and alcohol use and addiction. So we are using random drug testing. This is a simple tool that does not involve the school or the police, just a parent who says to a child "I want you to be drug free and to help you make the right decisions in a peer situation.

This has not damaged our relationship with our child. Now that he’s in College we have a legally binding contract that he will owe the tuition to us if he fails. He is an adult and is free to choose to use, but not if he receives financial support from us. Last week he passed again!

You can send a simple urine test to Burlington Laboratories at 2 Church St. in Burlington. They test for everything for $25.00 There are also over-the-counter kits. I see this as helping my kids navigate a very difficult social stage.


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