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Bid to curb teen drinking launched

Underage consumption of alcohol cost state $316.5 million in 2005

Posted: Wednesday, December 05, 2007

One out of every five alcoholic drinks consumed in Alaska in 2005 was downed by a minor, says the state Department of Health and Social Services.

That rate of illegal consumption is raising serious health risks and social problems including depression, high-risk sexual behavior and suicide, difficulties in school, youth violence and alcohol abuse, according to national statistics cited by the department in a press release Monday announcing the draft plan to reduce and prevent underage drinking.

Among the things that need to change is the tacit societal acceptance of underage drinking, noted Diane Casto, prevention and early intervention manager for the Division of Behavioral Health.

The national report concluded that youth couldn't be held solely responsible for drinking because society treats alcohol use as normal and pervasive.

The 20 percent of alcohol consumed by miners in 2005 accounted for $74 million in sales, providing profits to the alcohol industry of $36 million. Underage drinking cost citizens of Alaska a whopping $316.5 million in 2005, including medical care, work loss, pain and suffering equivalent to $3,944 per year for each youth in the state.

The largest costs are associated with youth violence ($225.5 million) and traffic accidents ($24.9 million). High-risk sexual activity (ages 14 to 20) accounted for an additional $18.4 million.

According to the department, enforcement efforts conducted by the Department of Health and Social Services and the Department of Public Safety in 2006 showed 13 percent of all retailers investigated sold tobacco to underage buyers, whereas 30 percent of all retailers investigated sold alcohol to underage buyers. Those cases generally involved teens hired by investigators to attempt alcohol and tobacco purchases, Casto said.

One thing revealed by those investigations is the disparity in legal action applied to sales of tobacco versus alcohol. Casto said Alaska has the most stringent penalties in the country for sales of tobacco to minors, typically resulting in penalties even on first offenses.

"We're quite proud of that," Casto said.

Penalties for underage alcohol sales, however, are determined by the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board, she said, and often are not consistent.

Legislation to address that disparity is to be introduced in the nest legislative session, Casto said.

Alaska's draft plan includes six top-priority recommendations. They are:

* A legislative review of state statutes and regulations, comparing them to recommendations in the plan;

* More screening, treatment and prevention services for youth;

* Training and education for policy makers and stakeholders in the criminal justice system on proven strategies and best practices;

* Matching underage-sales penalties for alcohol and tobacco, if possible;

* Boosting compliance with laws against underage sales; and

* Creating a Web site with local, state and national material.

The Alaska draft plan is now open for public comment and will be through April 14, 2008. To read the full plan, get details about how to comment, or to request a public meeting, go to http://hss.state.ak.us/dbh.

Hal Spence can be reached at hspence@ptialaska.net.



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