The Herald Bulletin

Morning Update

Teens, Alcohol & Drugs

April 19, 2010

Underage drinking costs high for county

Outlets in county fail compliance checks at higher rate

ANDERSON, Ind. — For one Madison County teen, drinking alcohol seemed like a natural habit while growing up with an alcoholic mother who drinks every day.

The 17-year-old, who says he prefers hard liquor because “beer’s just too nasty,” gets his alcohol by standing outside a liquor store and waiting for someone to walk in who will buy it for him. Other times, he said, he steals it.

The boy, who did not want to be identified, spent part of 2009 attending court-ordered sessions at Madison County Sheriff’s Department chaplain Benny Santiago’s Project Hope created to mentor teens. His story is indicative of the alcohol culture that has permeated groups of teens throughout Indiana.

Households in Madison County spend about $530 on alcohol each year, according to a recently released study by Healthy, Tobacco Free Madison County, but the actual cost to the county is much higher, especially when the alcohol use involves those under 21.

Underage drinking cost the county almost $27.5 million in 2005, according to The Consumption and Consequences of Alcohol and Drugs in Madison County epidemiological profile done by HTFMC. That cost, which includes $2,124 per year for each youth in the county, takes into account youth violence, traffic accidents, high-risk sex, youth property crime, youth injury, alcohol poisoning and psychosis, fetal alcohol syndrome and youth alcohol treatment.

“One of the things we’ve heard pretty regularly when we’ve been involved with retailers is it’s important for them to be able to remain competitive in these difficult economic times and that (alcohol) really ultimately is something they need as a source of revenue,” said HTFMC’s Andrew Sprock, who put together the study. “In the big picture, making alcohol more easily available and more common will often have a more significant cost to our community, a cost that outweighs the benefits.

“We’re not advocating for elimination of alcohol, but for some more responsible policy and some recognition that this is not just a parent issue.”

According to the study, underage alcohol sales brought in $8 million to alcohol retailers in Madison County in 2005, with $3.4 million in profits. In 2005 in Indiana, there was $384 million in underage alcohol sales resulting in $186 million in profits.

Although the study found that about 20 percent of underage drinkers get alcohol from family members, Sprock said what stood out to him were results of Indiana State Excise Police compliance checks in Madison County. The checks show a 48.8 percent failure rate at Madison County alcohol retailers from April 2007 to March 2009, compared to a 34.5 percent failure rate in the rest of Indiana.

“Nearly half of the time a Madison County retailer is checked, they are found to be selling alcohol illegally,” the report says. “Another way of stating this is that, generally speaking, it is easier for an underage person to illegally purchase alcohol in Madison County than in the rest of the state.”

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