Underage drinking

Minot has been rapidly growing and seeing an influx of people moving in, and while the city might not have as much of that small town charm like it once had, residents and officials continue in their efforts to keep it a relatively safe place.

The Minot Area Safe Communities Coalition met Wednesday in the style of a town hall meeting to discuss and gather input on the issue of underage drinking. The coalition recently received a grant to further the study on underage drinking. The information gathered at the meeting is to be used in the development of an area-wide strategic plan to address underage and adult binge drinking.

Margie Zietz of the Minot Police Department said the underage drinking presentation, which was part of the monthly Safe Communities meetings, was held to raise awareness for the issue of underage drinking in the community.

Dawn Lockrem, one of the three presenters at the meeting and speaking as a concerned parent and community member, gave a definition of binge drinking and provided some statistics. Binge drinking can be described as consuming five or more of the same alcoholic drinks in a short amount of time. For men, having five or more drinks on a single occurrence could be considered binge drinking, while for women it would be four drinks or more on a single occurrence.

According to Lockrem, one of the statistics showed that North Dakota traffic fatalities totaled 170 for 2012, with 87 of those being alcohol related. In 2013, there were a total of 148 traffic fatalities and 71 of those were alcohol related. It’s Lockrem’s opinion that traffic fatalities that involve alcohol can be 100 percent preventable.

Another statistic that Lockrem mentioned was the amount and percent of admissions to treatment programs by substance and age in North Dakota in 2012. Of the 2,591 total admissions in 2012, 523 of the people were under the age of 21. The majority of these admissions were for marijuana, followed by alcohol or alcohol with a secondary substance.

Lori Brierley, public information officer at First District Health Unit, gave the second part of the presentation, which focused on the stages of the State Incentive Grant received as well as approaches that would possibly work in preventing underage and adult binge drinking.

It was a three-part process in receiving the State Incentive Grant, Brierley said, which included assessment, planning and implementation. Work on the planning stage has already been started and the implementation stage will start in September, she added.

There were four variables identified for intervention in underage and adult binge drinking. The four variables included community norms, social availability of alcoholic beverages, promotion of alcohol at events and enforcement of rules. “The strategies need to evidence based, realistic and population based,” Brierley said. She added that the grant is not for treatment but prevention.

One of the approaches in prevention that has proven to work is making alcohol less accessible and appealing to people under age 21. Other areas to target included policies and enforcement, community norms and messages from the media. Brierley said experts have claimed that increasing taxes on sales of alcohol have worked in prevention, since price typically affects how much alcohol people will consume.

There are other tactics that work in underage and adult binge drinking as well. Requiring beverage servers to go through training to identify fake IDs, putting restrictions on or refusal of alcohol service to a person who is intoxicated, or putting restrictions on drink promotions like happy hour or ladies night. Other tactics include controlling the number of bars within a certain area, sobriety checkpoints, social host liability laws (laws that penalize the parents or homeowner for knowingly or unknowingly serving alcohol at their house), and restricting alcohol sales at public events.

“We’re not trying to bring back prohibition or be teetotalers,” Brierley said, but the aim is to prevent the negative effects and dangers of alcohol. For drinking and driving, the ideal goal would be to have it become as unheard of an idea as smoking a cigarette on an airplane or requesting a seat in the smoking or non-smoking section at a restaurant now is to most people, she added.

Zietz ended the presentation with the results from a six-question survey that was taken by parents attending the end of the year picnic for the Minot Public Schools’ after school program. There were 52 parents who answered the questions, Zietz said. Some of the questions included asking if people think teenage drinking is a rite of passage that can’t be avoided, if it’s okay for parents to allow their own high school age teens to drink alcohol at home or if alcohol in the home is locked up or in a secure place.

There were 23.5 percent of survey takers who agreed completely that teenage drinking is a rite of passage. There were also 82.5 percent of people who completely disagreed with it being okay for parents to allow their teenage children to drink alcohol at home. However, 41.18 percent of people said the alcohol in their homes is never locked up or in a secure place, while 27.45 percent of people always have the alcohol in their homes locked up or secure.