Community groups hope education curbs underage drinking

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April 21st, 2014

Omaha, NE — Prom season has arrived for high schools around the state of Nebraska. As thousands of students take to the dance floors and after parties ready to end the school year, joining them is the concern for underage drinking, according to Nicole Carritt, executive director, at Project Extra Mile.

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PEM is a state wide non-profit organization that works to educate the public on the ills of underage drinking and the related consequences to youth access to alcohol.

Carritt said the issue is an important one, mostly because it isn’t always seen as a real problem. She said that is why it is vital to have the Douglas County Health Department as a partner.

“We know that underage drinking is a significant public health problem in Nebraska and across the country,” Carritt said. “So we know the public health and their expertise in these issues and their contact with the public and protecting their health certainly ties in tremendously with the work that we’re doing.”

Carritt said PEM focuses on the significant public health problems that underage drinking causes and its impact on the community.

Project Extra Mile started more than 20 years ago as a pilot project. (Photo Courtesy Project Extra Mile)

Project Extra Mile started more than 20 years ago as a pilot project. (Photo Courtesy Project Extra Mile)

Binge drinking among 19 to 20 year olds is on the rise, according to the 2013 Nebraska Young Adult Alcohol Opinion Survey. From 2010 to 2013, among females ages 19 to 20, binge drinking increased from 28.3 percent to 32.1 percent. During the same time period, among males ages 19 to 20, binge drinking increased from 26.3 percent to 34.7 percent

“We know that youth who begin drinking before the age of fifteen are four times as likely to become alcohol dependent as adults,” Carritt said.

Anne O’Keefe, senior epidemiologist for the Douglas County Health Department, agreed with Carrit when it came to the issue often times being overlooked.

“I think it’s very important because it is an under-recognized issue,” O’Keefe said. “I think more people think about alcoholism and chronic alcoholics when they think about drinking as a problem. But it’s much bigger than that.”

Carritt said PEM places a significant focus on educating adults in the community as she calls them the key.

“We know that adults really shape the world our kids live in. We know that kids don’t determine where alcohol is sold, what it tastes like or what the price is” Carritt said. “We know that falls to adults in the community. The majority of alcohol that minors have access to comes from adults in the community so we really work to hold adults accountable and not place the entire burden of underage drinking on our young people.”

Carritt said consequences of underage drinking vary from motor vehicle accidents, unintentional injuries and possibly precarious sexual behavior. She also added empowering youth by educating them on the evils of underage drinking is the best way to get their message across.

“Nebraska is the number four binge drinking state in the country and we know that the connection between adult alcohol consumption and youth is very well rooted and well grounded,” Carritt said. ”So we have a lot of work to do.”

The Boys and Girls Club of the Midlands helps more than 1,400 students daily. (Photo Courtesy The Boys and Girls Club of the Midlands)

The Boys and Girls Club of the Midlands helps more than 1,400 students daily. (Photo Courtesy The Boys and Girls Club of the Midlands)

Tom Kunkel, chief professional officer for the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Midlands, said groups like his are imperative to keeping kids out of trouble. Eight Boys and Girls Club locations across the Omaha Metropolitan area serve more than 1,400 students every day.

Kunkel said the most dangerous hours for kids are after school from 3-7 p.m. This is when, Kunkel said, kids may get out of school and go home to an empty house or to friends’ house where there is no adult supervision. The Boys and Girls Club offers students three important things, according to Kunkel:  a safe place to be after school, activities for them to take part of and people who will help them make good decisions when faced with tough situations.

“When you’ve got those three things, a place, something for them to do in terms of programming and people to interact with them, you can really make an impact on young people,” Kunkel said.

Kunkel says the B&G Club covers what he calls resistance training, to know what to do when faced with a situation where peer pressure comes into play.

“Having a safe place and then having an opportunity to try to influence kids and educate kids so they are making good decisions, those are two important pieces for keeping kids away from drinking and some of those other temptations that are out there for young people,” Kunkel said.

Kunkel said community groups like the B&G Club help students who may not have the resources that other students may have, like a positive role model. He said by giving kids’ activities to keep them out of trouble and education to know right from wrong they are given resources that are truly invaluable. He said kids who have been a part of the B&G Club are more apt to make the right decisions when faced with peer pressure.

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