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Meeting to target teen drinking

It’s been called the most serious issue facing youth today: underage drinking. A local task force, the Butler County Underage Drinking Coalition, hopes to combat this plague on today’s teens and pre-teens – and they very much want to see the county’s parents involved in the process.

The task force is sponsoring a Community-Wide Underage Drinking Meeting slated for 7 p.m. this Thursday night, Sept. 23 at the Family Life Center of the First Baptist Church in Greenville.

David Brantley, headmaster at Fort Dale Academy and one of the task force members, stresses the organization’s desire to make the community aware of the very real and widespread problem of underage drinking.

The hard facts

Here are some of the hard facts about a problem some parents see as a relative harmless rite of passage:

n One-third to two-thirds of all &uot;date rapes&uot; occurring among teens and college students involve use of alcohol.

n One-half of all teenage girls that have sexual intercourse below the age of seventeen are intoxicated.

n According to research studies, forty percent of youth that start drinking below the age of 15 will become alcoholics.

n Twice the number of auto crashes involves youth and alcohol, as opposed to those 21 and over.

n Alcohol is a major factor in 33 percent of suicides, 50 percent of homicides, 62 percent of assaults, 68 percent of manslaughter cases, 50 percent of head injuries and 41 percent of traffic fatalities.

While there has been much media focus on illicit drug use (and a subsequent impact on young people’s behavior), Brantley and the taskforce members believe it is now time to pay attention to the most used, abused and ultimately, most costly, drug in the U.S. – alcohol.

The problem is out there

&uot;This is not just a Fort Dale Academy problem – or a Greenville High problem – this epidemic of underage drinking is found to some extent in every high school and middle school in this country. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a big town or small town, private school or public you are talking about – the problem is there,&uot; Brantley says.

The local task force, which is modeled after a similar program in the Mobile area, is made up of a variety of individuals from across the county, including law enforcement officials, representatives of the ABC Board, juvenile probation officers, ministerial association representatives, area public and private school administrators and concerned parents.

&uot;Our desire is not just to educate people about the dangers of underage drinking; we also want to encourage enforcement of the law and support for the judicial system in regards to underage drinking,&uot; Brantley explains.

It’s a community concern

Dr. Pat Taylor, administrator and counselor for St. Paul’s Episcopal School

in Mobile, will be on hand for Thursday’s meeting, along with several other Mobile-Baldwin task force members.

Taylor stresses he and his fellow task force members are not coming to Butler County &uot;to tell you what to do.&uot;

&uot;Yours is a smaller and a different community than ours, so some approaches will be different. However, we can, and will, let you know the positive steps that were taken to combat this problem in the Mobile and Baldwin County area. We don’t know all the answers, but we will gladly what has worked for us,&uot; explains Taylor.

Taylor describes the Mobile-Baldwin task force as &uot;very much community based.&uot;

&uot;Two years ago we started as a small, community movement…then we got sponsors on board, the Mayor’s Office, the Drug Education Council and my school, Saint Paul’s.

&uot;From there we called together a group of people from all walks of life – educators, law enforcement officials, doctors, lawyers, youth leaders, ministers – all sorts of individuals who shared a common concern for our youth,&uot; Taylor explains.

Taylor believes the Mobile-Baldwin task force’s effort to spread the word through media campaigns, programs given at civic club, county commission and city council meetings, newspaper editorials and other means is paying off for his area’s youth, saying they &uot;are definitely seeing some positive changes in the community.&uot;

Saving lives

Both Taylor and Brantley emphasize such task forces are not about church affiliation or public versus private schools.

&uot;This is not about denominations or neighborhoods. We are not trying to tell legal adults not to drink; that’s not what we are about. This is about improving and perhaps saving our young people’s lives,&uot; stresses Taylor.

Brantley hopes to see good participation from all the county schools as this tough issue is tackled.

"We have invited school officials from across the county to come to our meeting. Personally, I don't want to be here to react to a tragedy n I want us to be proactive," Brantley says.

Taylor, who has lost students to underage drinking ("a loss for absolutely no good reason at all"), is passionate about combating the problem.

"The biggest thing is changing an attitude and changing our culture n because it is robbing our youth of their lives."

All parents of middle and high-school aged children are especially encouraged to attend Thursday night's meeting at first Baptist Church. For more information, contact David Brantley at 382-2606.