State receives grant to combat underage drinking

Funds will go toward compliance checks, training, education and enforcement

Posted: Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Continued efforts to combat underage drinking in Alaska seem to be working, officials say.

The Alaska Department of Health and Social Division of Juvenile Justice was awarded a $360,000 grant from the federal government to enforce underage drinking laws, according to a press release Monday. The Department of Justice's Office of Juvenile and Delinquency Prevention awards grants to support and enhance states' efforts to enforce underage drinking laws.

"For such a large state and a small amount of money, I think we're doing a good job in helping the state curb underage drinking," said Division of Juvenile Justice Program Coordinator Shari Paul. "All the numbers that I'm seeing that are coming in are showing that there is really a decline, at least in the last six months."

The grant is used in a variety of ways to help enforce the underage drinking laws in Alaska, Paul said. The funds go toward activities such as compliance checks on bars, liquor stores and restaurants, training for youth probation officers, education campaigns and rural underage drinking enforcement.

The grant helps fund a position with the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board to conduct compliance checks and shoulder tapping, where an underage person works with investigators to get people buy alcohol outside liquor stores.

"Anything that we can do to help enforce underage drinking laws and help protect youth from getting into trouble is a good thing," Paul said. "We make every effort to do that."

The National Council on Alcohol and Drug Dependence-Juneau also received $20,000 from the grant to help its local efforts, Paul said.

"It's a substantial problem but it isn't all that much bigger than the national average, according to the (Risk Behavior Survey)," NCADD-Juneau Executive Director Matt Felix said. "We have a slightly higher drinking problem than the United States on the average."

NCADD-Juneau does a lot of its work in the local high schools to prevent underage drinking and drunk driving. The important thing is getting the message out to kids early, Felix said.

"The big problem here is they start at an earlier age and they binge drink more," he said.

The number of citations given out for underage drinking and minors operating a vehicle after consuming alcohol are a little lower in 2009 than during previous years, according to the Juneau Police Department. The department has issued 91 citations for underage drinking so far this year as of Wednesday. The average number of citations a year is about 200.

The efforts to enforce and curtail underage drinking appear to be paying off, Felix said. However, it's a continuous battle, he added.

"We had a fatal car crash this year with underage drinking. In the 80s and 90s we had almost one a year for 13 years," he said. "It was amazing. We were one of the highest in the nation."

The number of alcohol related fatalities seemed to wane in recent years, Felix said, until 18-year-old Taylor White died just days after graduation while riding in a car that crashed near Mile 37 on Glacier Hwy.

• Contact reporter Eric Morrison at 523-2269 or eric.morrison@juneauempire.com.





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