Teen drinking down in county; parents play significant role

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Board members of Unite for Youth in Lincoln County recently went to Washington D.C. to ask Montana representatives for continued funding.

Unite for Youth Project Coordinator Maggie Anderson said there are three grants the organization want to make sure they get continued finding for: the Drug Free America grant, the Sober Truth on Preventing Underage Drinking Act grant and the Comprehensive Addiction Recovery Act grant.

The idea behind Unite for Youth is to rally the community as a whole to provide offense on the threat of underage drinking and drug use. Lincoln County Unite for Youth, according to Anderson, is a non-profit organization.

“We are a collaborative organization that works with law enforcement, public health, healthcare, educators, parents and youth,” said Anderson. “So 12 sectors of the community.”

According to data compiled by the organization, underage drinking among high school students in Lincoln County is the lowest it has been in ten years.

“It’s a good time to have a kid in high school,” said Crisis Intervention program health educator and Unite for Youth Board member, Amy Fantozzi.

Anderson pointed out that there was a time they had to say most teens were claiming to have taken more than a sip of alcohol within the previous 30 days. She said now they can make the claim that most of the students are not engaging in the act.

“It used to be back in 2008, nearly 60 percent did drink within the last 30 days,” said Anderson. “Now, in 2018, nearly 70 percent have not. So that is significant.”

Anderson explained when Unite for Youth first started, they did a big push with law enforcement.

They had received a special grant that helped police officers enforce underage drinking laws. She said the sheriff’s office came on board and focused on party patrols and saturation patrols.

“They would go out where there used to be big parties in the woods where there were 125 to 130 kids,” said Anderson. “Now, those big parties are few and far between. They have moved to smaller gatherings where they are in homes where parents were willing to provide either the home or the alcohol, or both.”

Anderson went on to say that the parties where there are over one hundred kids are almost non-existent. She said just a few years ago only 9 percent of children who were surveyed that had claimed to drink said they were afraid of being caught by law enforcement. Now that percentage is in the twenties.

“Interestingly, that percentage dropped between 2016 and 2018, and we thought it was because there was a change in who was in law enforcement and was doing the patrols,” said Anderson. “We thought we would see a decline in that. We want to get on top of that because when you see a decline in a perception of getting caught, that’s one of the key factors (to keep drinking).”

Fantozzi said she believes a reason behind the decline in perception of being caught could be the children are drinking in homes and there is less of a threat of being caught than if they were in the woods or a field.

Public Health Nurse for Libby and Unite for Youth Board member, Trista Gilmore, said the “drinking in a house thing” has a long history in Lincoln County.

“This is something we are trying to break that has been here a long time,” said Gilmore. “I knew exactly whose house I could go to when I was in high school, or what parents to ask.”

Gilmore, Anderson and Fantozzi all agreed the mission of Unite for Youth was to get ahead of the curve of teenage drinking and drug use by getting the community as a whole involved. “Twelve sectors of the community” are what they are referring to it as.

Anderson said we have 12 sectors that are represented in the community such as law enforcement, parents, religious advisors, etc. One of those people has several branches of resources that they can “bring to the table.”

“The thing we have really focused on that is really encouraging,” said Anderson. “Is, the kids who reported on having a conversation with a parent about drinking and drugs, parents were the most significant on their decision on whether to use or not. We want to get that information out to parents.”

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