With the current opiate epidemic, you might think prescription pain medication or heroin overdoses was the biggest killer of our youth. The reality is that more young people die from alcohol-related suicide, homicide or accidents than all other drugs combined. On average, alcohol contributes to the deaths of approximately 4,700 youths in the United States per year.
According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), 189,000 emergency rooms visits by persons under age 21 are for injuries and other conditions linked to alcohol. Although our small community might seem untouched by the effects of alcohol, information gathered from our youth might suggest otherwise. In the 2016 Healthy Youth Survey (HYS), sixth, eighth and 10th grade students of San Juan County reported a 1-2 percent higher 30-day use than their peers’ state-wide. fortynine percent of San Juan County 12th grade students report using alcohol in the last 30 days, which is 17 percent higher than the state average. The report showed of the 12th grade students who drank, 18 percent drove while drunk. Younger students report getting the alcohol from an older sibling, friends and parties. Students also report getting their alcohol from home without permission from their parents or giving someone money to buy it for them.
April is Alcohol Awareness Month and a time to remind everyone that underage drinking contributes to a wide range of costly health and social problems, including motor vehicle crashes, suicide, interpersonal violence, unintentional injuries such as burns, falls, and drowning, brain impairment, alcohol dependence, risky sexual activity, academic problems, and alcohol and drug poisoning. According to the CDC, excessive adult drinking costs the United States $223.5 billion in workplace productivity, health care expenses, criminal justice and losses from motor vehicle crashes. Reducing underage use of alcohol is the first line of defense against these costs.
Preventative measures can be taken by parents by locking up their alcohol and to talking to their kids about risks and consequences of underage drinking. Strategically, when it comes to alcohol, it requires all members of the community working together to create a culture which supports youth and their developing brains and bodies.