Police hope to curb drinking among middle school students

Police hope to curb teen binge drinking by giving presentations to Ashland Middle School students on the consequences of alcohol abuse, an official told the School Board last week.

"I think our No. 1 concern is the binge drinking," Lt. Corey Falls told the board. "The earlier that kids start drinking, the worse that it becomes."

Binge drinking is the most common drug problem officers see when dealing with Ashland teens, he said.

Although the number of minor-in-possession-of-alcohol citations issued by the Ashland Police Department has fallen since 2007, the number of officers in the department has also decreased since then, due to budget cuts, Falls said.

It's too early to tell if the decrease in citations is due to fewer officers on the streets or a decrease in the number of minors drinking, he said.

"My stance on it is, I don't know if the problems getting better or not," Falls said Monday. "I think it's hard to say that the problem has gone away until you have sustainable numbers to prove that."

Binge drinking among teens is associated with alcohol poisoning and sexual assaults in Ashland, he told the board.

"Those are some of the extremes that we see from binge drinking," he said.

In 2007, Ashland police cited 244 minors for being in possession of alcohol, and 87 of those were younger than 18. As of Oct. 31 this year, police had cited 154 minors for being in possession of alcohol, and 30 were juveniles. In 2007, the Ashland Police Department consisted of 30 sworn officers, but that number has since fallen to 26, due to budget cuts, Falls said. A state survey Di Chiro released at the School Board meeting suggests alcohol and marijuana use has increased among Ashland High School students in the past two years. The Oregon Healthy Teens Survey also reveals a higher percentage of Ashland middle and high school students say they use alcohol and marijuana than students do statewide.

The survey was administered last spring to eighth- and 11th-grade students, who answered anonymously.

In addition to asking about drug use over a period of 30 days, the survey asked students whether they had engaged in binge drinking, defined as having five drinks or more in a short period of time.

At Ashland High School, 36 percent of the students said they had, compared with 23 percent statewide. At Ashland Middle School, 19 percent said they had, compared to 11 percent statewide.

"Things are not getting any worse however we still continue to be above statewide averages in terms of our kids' use of alcohol and marijuana," Di Chiro said of the data on middle school students.

Di Chiro seemed to support the police department's plan to start an anti-drinking program at the middle school.

"The longer we can postpone (drug use) the better off the kids are," she said at the meeting. "Working at the middle school level is important."

Di Chiro and School Board Chairman Keith Massie plan to meet with Ashland Police Chief Terry Holderness to discuss the best ways to expand anti-drug programs in the district. Police could implement the binge-drinking-prevention program at the middle school as soon as this spring, Falls said.

Several School Board members expressed concern at the statistics Falls and Di Chiro presented.

"I'm really disturbed by some of the numbers," Board Vice Chairwoman Heidi Parker said. "I really do think we need to let our parents in our community know that these are not safe practices that our kids are involved in, especially at such an early age.

Educating students — and their parents — is important, Parker said.

"I think (among the parents) there's a huge amount of, 'Oh, I did it and I was OK, so if they do it, they'll be ok,' and we all know that not all of them are."

Contact staff writer Hannah Guzik at 482-3456 ext. 226 or hguzik@dailytidings.com.

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