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Editorial 3/16-3/23 

Underage Drinking Problem


Deschutes County has a higher rate of teen drinking than the rest of the state, and that's in a state that has a higher rate than nationally. Bend is famous for its year-round festivities, and yes, a lot of drinking happens, not that anyone wants to talk about it like that. Microbreweries are a pillar of the Central Oregon economy.

Just how big of a problem underage drinking and binge drinking is today in Deschutes County is best told by the kids themselves. The annual Oregon Student Wellness Survey includes data for every county, self-reported by students. What the report shows is that by the 11th grade, 43.9 percent of students in the county drank alcohol in the previous 30 days and 25 percent had consumed five or more drinks within a couple of hours (statewide, the number of students who self-reported binge drinking is 18.9 percent). Seventy percent of students said it would be easy to get beer, wine or hard liquor.

There are four refusal skills videos produced by Deschutes County – two for middle school use and two for high school use. These videos are a supplement to the evidence-based substance abuse prevention curriculum provided by the school districts. The videos were completed by a coalition youth committee last year under the guidance of prevention specialists from Deschutes County Health Services. Local youth and adults volunteered their time as actors.

According to the Student Wellness Survey, students in Deschutes County are more likely to talk to parents about drugs and alcohol use than kids throughout the rest of the state. Deschutes County students are also more likely to have had a class about the dangers of drinking and drugs, yet the number of students drinking and using drugs is still higher here than elsewhere in Oregon.

Interestingly, 40.3 percent of students in Deschutes County reported they lived with someone who is a problem drinker or alcoholic. Students were also more likely in Deschutes County to say they rode in a car driven by a parent who had been drinking: 16.8 percent locally versus 13.9 in the state.

Deschutes County began its high risk drinking effort in 2012 and last year the Shared Future Coalition was formed. Julie Spackman and Evan Thibeau are the co-directors of the new organization, which combines two separate programs, one focused on drinking and the other on drug abuse. The Shared Future Coalition website is:

"There is not a silver bullet," says Spackman, who sees a need for a comprehensive approach. "One thing alone doesn't solve it. We have to look at how our whole community is wired," she says.

The Shared Future Coalition includes youth, parents, civic organizations, churches, government, law enforcement, parks, businesses, media partners, health care professionals, schools, and youth-serving organizations, among others. It's a community-wide effort for substance abuse prevention that deserves our support.

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