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July 7, 2012

Officials work to spread message of playing it safe when serving alcohol

Group wants to help curb underage and binge drinking

CLINTON — County officials are working toward reducing underage and binge drinking with the help of a new grant.

The Area Substance Abuse Council, along with various groups and county officials, is working on a new five-year grant funded by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration and the Center for Substance Abuse Prevention.

The grant is a Strategic Prevention Framework State Incentive Grant, which involves a five-step planning process known to support positive youth development, reduce risk-taking behaviors, build on assets and prevent problem behaviors. The SPF SIG funds 23 Iowa counties.

“The Iowa Department of Public Health found a need for our county to implement new strategies,” Clinton County SPF SIG Coordinator Candace Seitz said. “We’re happy that the state decided we need the help.”

The group working on the grant includes officials from three local law enforcement departments along with the Clinton County Sheriff’s Department, public health officials, school officials, substance abuse agencies, youth organizations and the Clinton Area Chamber of Commerce. Some of the main initiatives of their strategic plan include implementing policies at community events offering alcohol, local colleges and other groups and promoting their message.

Strategies for addressing underage drinking include compliance checks of alcohol retailers to address enforcement of laws, social host liability to address social access and promotion to increase community readiness.

Compliance checks at local establishments are a crucial part of the plan, according to Coordinator Candace Seitz.

“The group felt that using compliance checks to address enforcement issues of underage drinking will be most effective if they occur at least quarterly,” Seitz said. “These checks are not currently done consistently across the county due to a lack of countywide funding for compliance checks.”

Through Clinton County SPF SIG the collaborative group plans to complete compliance checks for 65 percent of all the retailers and restaurants in Clinton County for a total of 60 retailers or liquor license holders a year. The funding is not guaranteed each year from their source so alternative funding must be sought out in order to sustain this strategy.

Social host liability is another strategy that the group hopes to use to address social access of alcohol to minors since the group had a concern that youths under age 21 were often attending parties at homes where someone over 21 years resided and alcohol was being consumed. Currently the group is working on  implementing a social host ordinance that will be presented to the Clinton County Board of Supervisors in the near future. This ordinance will establish penalties for adult persons who knowingly permit or allow underage drinking and will encourage those persons to ensure that those activities are not occurring on premises under their control.

Promotion of alcohol advertisements is not an issue the collaborative group prioritized during the assessment process but IDPH has encouraged Clinton County to utilize the IDPH approved media campaign materials to increase community readiness. By the end of the SPF SIG project, 75 percent of the targeted youth will identify and be impacted by the “What Do You Throw Away” campaign for underage drinking.

Strategies for addressing adult binge drinking include alcohol restrictions at community events to address social access of alcohol, revise, create, and enforce College Campus Policies to address social access of alcohol, providing responsible beverage server training for special events to address retail access and the over serving of patrons and promotion to increase community readiness.

The hope is to make consistent policies regarding alcohol use across community events, not to hinder the event coordinators.

“We’re not trying to be offensive,” Seitz said. “We’re trying to protect them from liability, making sure their staff are trained. We want to make sure they are trained in how to deal with people who are intoxicated or underaged who are trying to purchase alcohol.”

While this strategy is easily misinterpreted by the public, the idea behind it is simple.

“We want to make sure events are protecting themselves and to help the community have safe events,” Seitz said.

By providing responsible beverage server training for special events they hope to prevent or reduce more underage drinking and binge drinking. The training is free and is only a few hours provided by representatives from the Area Substance Abuse Council.

“We want event planners to have policies to encourage training,” Seitz said. “If someone gets into a car drunk following their event and gets into an accident, the family can go after the establishment.”

The grant will go through June 30, 2014, but the group hopes its efforts through the grant will be sustainable long after.

For more information contact Seitz at cseitz@asac.us or 243-2124.

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