CLINTON — Clinton was one of hundreds of communities nationwide that held an underage drinking prevention town hall meeting on Tuesday to raise awareness about the issue of underage drinking.

The meeting was part of a state- and nationwide effort to increase understanding of underage drinking and to encourage communities, including parents, young people, teachers, business people, law enforcement and elected officials to come together to discuss the impact underage drinking has on the community, why prevention is important and what parents and the community can do to help.

Members of the community met at the Clinton Community College Graphic Arts Technology Center.

The town hall meeting featured a panel discussion moderated by Clinton County Sheriff Rick Lincoln. The panel included Leslie Mussman, prevention coordinator from New Directions; Clinton County Sheriff’s Deputy Stacey Bussie; Pastor Jim Machen from the Church of the Open Door; Assistant Clinton County Attorney Joel Walker; and Valerie Kommer, a Clinton High School senior and a Students Against Destructive Decisions member.

Mussman discussed what statistics have shown regarding youths in treatment and prevention measures. She explained a decrease in underage drinking was seen from 1970 to 1992 because legislators raised the drinking age from 18 to 21 and because of the effectiveness of “Just Say No” campaigns. Mussman added that in 1992, the numbers hit a plateau and have relatively remained there.

“Statistics show that these kids start at 12 to 14 years old, when parents aren’t even thinking that it’s an issue,” Mussman said.

Mussman cited recent treatment numbers showing youths are using marijuana at a higher rate because kids that use alcohol build a tolerance and move on to other drugs.

She added a study from 1999 to 2002 showed students were more likely to see an alcohol advertisement than an anti-alcohol campaign.

Bussie is a Drug Abuse Resistance Education Officer and said media exposure is a big part of the problem.

“Alcohol is glorified,” Bussie said.

Bussie said the No. 1 killer of teens in Iowa is car crashes. He cited a statistic from 2001 to 2004 that showed 397 teens and young adults died in Iowa crashes and said half of those accidents were alcohol-related.

He said part of the problem is some parents condone the use of alcohol by teenagers as a rite of passage and think as long as it is at home instead of out in the community teens will be safe from the dangers.

Bussie explained retailer enforcement is an important part of the solution to the underage drinking problem.

He said alcohol stings are done in Clinton County using juveniles who attempt to purchase alcohol in various establishments and said if any retail stores desire training for employees, the Sheriff’s Office is happy to help.

“We feel it’s a success when we go out and to a sting and nobody sells,” Lincoln added.

Bussie said a recent increase in civil penalties for underage drinking and increased lawsuits resulting from alcohol-related crashes also help to reduce the number of minors who drink alcohol.

Kommer said many youths drink to get drunk and they think there is nothing wrong with drinking as long as they don’t get caught.

She said it is increasingly hard to find people who are against drinking underage.

“The number of those who drink outnumber those who don’t,” Kommer said. She added there is a “snowball effect.”

The more kids drink in high school, the more kids in middle school will because they look up to the high school students, she said.

---

Quick Fact:

According to a 2002 Clinton County Iowa Youth Survey compiled by New Directions, 32 percent of kids said they had used alcohol in the last 30 days compared to a state average of 23 percent. Area youths are drinking at a much younger age, starting at 12 or 13, and the most common reason listed for alcohol use was that kids didn’t have many activities to do in rural areas.