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Editorial: More awareness needed to reduce teen drinking


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With prom season upon us and graduation not far away, this is prime time for high school parties. But teens need to be aware: Mix alcohol with those celebrations, and you could wind up in legal trouble.

Local police agencies are diligent about enforcing laws on underage consumption, and the statistics appear to show that young people are getting the message.

In the past five years, police in the county have arrested more than 1,900 teens or young adults for underage drinking, often finding them at house parties with a dozen or more others. During that time, the number of underage drinking arrests has fallen, from 482 arrests in 2009 to 240 last year, according to data from the Johnson County Sheriff’s Office.

Police said the decrease is at least partly due to more neighbors calling police when they think a party is going on. As more residents have called police about suspicious vehicles or people in their neighborhoods, officers and deputies have been able to find more underage drinking parties. Johnson County Sheriff Doug Cox said that, as word of the busts spread, teens may think twice before attending parties.

“One way or another, we’re probably going to track most of those down,” Cox said.

After teens are arrested for consuming or possessing alcohol, they’re taken to either the juvenile detention center or the county jail, depending on whether they’re 18. Students also can face consequences at school, including being suspended from sports or extracurricular activities or banned entirely if they continue to drink.

Groups such as Students Against Destructive Decisions, or SADD, are trying to encourage students in high school to make better decisions that won’t get them into trouble or put them in danger.

Police also watch for parties to ensure underage drinkers don’t hurt themselves or others. For example, one of the teens at a recent party was taken to a hospital after he passed out from heavy drinking. Teens won’t always call for help if they’ve been drinking because they don’t want to get in trouble, Cox said.

“Kids that have been drinking make terrible decisions,” he added.

That is the focus of SADD, which has more than 250 chapters across Indiana, including ones at Center Grove, Greenwood, Indian Creek and Whiteland high schools, where students concerned about underage drinking can help organize programs to help stop it.

One of the club’s more common events involves staging a car crash for upperclassmen and showing the students what emergency crews have to do to rescue those involved and the ensuring legal and emotional issues. Mock crashes have been staged at county high schools in the past.

Reducing underage drinking and preventing any resulting problems or tragedies requires continued vigilance by police, school staff, parents and students themselves. The recent trend in arrests shows the message is getting across, but continued emphasis is needed for each succeeding group of teenagers.

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