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9:00 PM Thu, Sept. 20th

Youth in Action: Group gets teens involved in underage drinking prevention

The Daily Courier

"The number one reason that teens in rural towns start drinking is because they are bored," said Jason Blackstock, youth programs specialist/communications specialist for Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) Arizona during a recent presentation at the Prescott Police Department. "And the number one access point to getting alcohol is the parents' liquor cabinet."

When dad brings home a case of beer, he is not going to miss a couple of cans. In addition, some parents think it is a rite of passage or believe if their children are going to drink anyway, they should drink at home.

"This introduces an onslaught of problems," he said.

Youth in Action is a youth-led project to reduce teen access to alcohol and support enforcement of underage drinking laws.

Blackstock has been introducing the Youth in Action project to Yavapai County. He also gave a presentation for teens and their parents at Yavapai College, but later expressed disappointment at the turnout.

"I was hoping for 20 people, but I got five," he said. However, the five who did show from the Prescott Valley Mayor's Youth Committee were enthusiastic young adults. "They definitely had a lot of good ideas that us older people don't take into consideration. The input was very valuable to us and we gained the youth perspective of what they want to have happen during the next school year."

Blackstock added that the Yavapai Underage Drinking Task Force has allocated money to combat underage drinking in this area.

"Our goal is to have youth ideas and feedback and incorporate those funds into underage drinking," he said.

Reducing underage drinking can work. In a seven-square mile, one zip code section of Chandler, MADD worked on the specific goals of reducing alcohol signage and ensured that liquor store clerks did not sell to minors by using underage decoys. Over a six-month period, Chandler saw an 18- to 20-percent reduction in the sale of alcohol to minors younger than 21.

Part of Youth in Action prevention is taking the next step.

"The idea of 'Don't Drink and Drive' has been hammered into these kids," Blackstock said. "But they shouldn't be drinking in the first place. Where are they getting the alcohol? Why is it easy and acceptable? We're looking at the entire scope of underage drinking."

One serious issue is liquor store clerks selling alcohol to underage drinkers.

"Usually, we get 20 to 30 percent of retailers not carding, but in one case a clerk looked at a 17-year-old's ID and sold it to him anyway," Blackstock said. "The kids get excited about helping with compliance checks. We've had 15- to 19-year-olds hit five to six retailers a night as decoys. If the transaction is completed, we issue a citation."

Another activity is the shoulder tap survey.

"It is against the law for someone underage to solicit an adult to buy alcohol," he said. "In one case, we used 14-year-old girls who offered an adult $20 to buy a 12-pack. Twenty percent were willing to buy."

The decoys have started using shoulder tap cards.

"If someone buys alcohol for them, that person is given a 'Yes' card, which states that it is illegal to purchase or provide alcohol for someone under 21," Blackstock said. "If someone refuses to purchase the alcohol, that person is given a 'No' card, which says thank you for supporting the legal drinking age."

Blackstone said the overwhelming consensus from students at the Yavapai College presentation is to target parents and get them involved in discussions to provide alternatives.

"They jumped on the idea to have youth and family-oriented events that are not related to alcohol," he said. "Suggestions included swimming, movies and concerts. The kids want to show how fun it can be in a social, entertaining environment without the issue of drinking coming into play."

Contact the reporter at jtwaddell@prescottaz.com