8th graders drink more


Like parent, like child.

Adults in Oregon consume more alcohol than the national average and their children appear to be heavier drinkers than their counterparts in other states, according to a new study by the Oregon Department of Human Services.

Surveyors found in 1999 that almost 27 percent of Oregon eighth-graders had consumed a drink of alcohol in the previous month compared with 24 percent nationwide.

In 2005, 30 percent of Oregon eighth-graders had consumed+ a drink of alcohol in the previous month compared with 17 percent nationwide.

Stephanie Soares Pump, vice chairwoman of Gov. Ted Kulongoski's Council on Alcohol and Drug Programs and an author of the study, blames at least some of the increase on funding cuts to counseling programs during the past three legislative sessions. In that time, she said, programs funded partly by state money lost more than 1,000 substance-abuse counselors.

"As a matter of public policy we have disinvested in substance abuse and prevention programs," she said.

Though it's unlikely that many eighth-graders are walking into stores to buy beer, some believe Oregon's tax on beer, among the lowest in the country, is to blame for youth drinking.

Alaska, which until several years ago had the lowest beer taxes in the country, also had one of the highest rates of underage drinking. Several years ago, the state boosted its tax on malt beverages to the highest in the country, and underage drinking plummeted, said Geralyn Brennan, prevention epidemiologist with the Oregon Addiction and Mental Health Division.

"A number of studies have shown that when price goes up, use goes down," she said.

Surveyors found that Oregon children also see less danger in drinking, making it more attractive. In 2001, 39 percent of eighth-graders believed that there was "great risk of harm" from taking one to two drinks a day, but by 2005 that figure had dropped to 29 percent.

Health officials are particularly concerned about drinking among the very young. "If we could postpone drinking until age 21, we really find a lot lower prevalence of binge and problem drinking behaviors," Brennan said.

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