With prom season and graduation parties on the horizon, Grand Traverse County Commissioners are raising the issue of underage drinking. Prompted by a presentation by Marybeth Novak of Catholic Human Services, commissioners proclaimed April as “Social Host Awareness Month" and are urging area parents to take measures to eliminate underage drinking.
“Social host laws have been around for quite some time, but underage alcohol consumption continues to be the leading cause of death among those 12 to 20,” Novak tells The Ticker.
Allowing minors to consume alcohol on premises and furnishing alcohol to a minor are crimes that carry penalties of 30 days to up to 10 years in prison if a minor is killed as a result of having consumed alcohol, according to GT County Prosecutor Robert Cooney.
“About 20 years ago, this community witnessed just how devastating the results of these crimes can be when three teenagers were killed in a drunk driving crash on the Peninsula where the driver had been consuming alcohol at a party hosted by his parents prior to driving,” recalls Cooney. “The parents were prosecuted, the driver, a teenager himself, spent 15 years in prison, and one other teenager suffered life-long serious injury, all because of one bad decision to allow minors to consume alcohol.”
The board resolution notes that:
• Alcohol kills 6.5 times more young people than all other illicit drugs combined.
• Use among teens often accompanies traffic fatalities, suicides, unprotected sex, drug use and other high risk behaviors.
• Alcohol is a factor in the four leading causes of deaths among persons ages 10 to 24, including motor vehicle crashes, unintentional injuries, homicide and suicide.
• Underage drinkers consume 16.5 percent of all alcohol sold in Michigan.
• Michigan ranks 16th in the percentage of alcohol consumed by underage youth.
The proclamation was sent to school superintendents and local bodies of government.
Novak says a 2010 survey of seventh, ninth and 11th grade students from GT County shows that 70 percent of ninth and 11th graders say alcohol is easy or very easy to get. The most likely places for seventh and ninth graders to get booze were at home or someone gives it to them. High school juniors say the most common way to get alcohol was having someone buy it for them with the student’s money.
GT Sheriff’s Department data shows a dip in the number of Minors in Possession arrests in recent years. In 2008, there were 281 MIP arrests, then 287 arrests in 2009. That slid to 240 in 2010, 158 in 2011 and 182 last year.
“Please keep in mind these are only the number from the Sheriff’s Department and do not include arrests or citations for Minor in Possession from the Traverse City Police Department or Michigan State Police in our area,” explains Capt. Randy Fewless of the GTSD.