Program helps underage drinkers

Program helps underage drinkers
December 31
00:00 2014
(pictured above: Forsyth District Attorney Jim O’Neill addresses the issue.)

The North Carolina Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) Commission and the Forsyth County District Attorney’s Office announced their new Talk It Out program for those charged with underage drinking.

The announcement came on Thursday, Dec.18 at the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools Career Center.
The pilot program, funded by a grant from the N.C. Governor’s Crime Commission, starts soon in Forsyth, Pitt, New Hanover and Watauga counties. Those charged with underage drinking after Jan. 1, 2015, in Forsyth County will have the opportunity to defer prosecution by completing an education program on the dangers of underage alcohol consumption.

Forsyth District Attorney Jim O’Neill called it “a show of force” to tackle the problem. He said the three-month program will consist of an educational component on the dangers of underage drinking from the Partnership for a Drug Free America.

It will also include community service hours, visiting a hold-over lot to view vehicles destroyed by drunk drivers, monthly visits to Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) and completing an essay.

Parents of participants will be part of the process, too, and must undergo a one-hour program on the dangers of underage drinking. Fees like a $100 community service fee and court fees will also have to be paid.

“It’s not about punishment; we’re not trying to ruin young lives,” O’Neill said. “What we’re trying to do is educate people and give people a second chance.”

ABC Commission Executive Director Luther Snyder said that will save court time and taxpayer money by reducing recidivism. He said it also will cut down on the tremendous human impact of underage drinking.

He said the commission’s research shows that underage drinking causes 16,000 injures a year, more than 60 unplanned pregnancies a month and two deaths a week in North Carolina.

Luther Snyder

Luther Snyder

“And we’re not just talking dollars and cents; we’re talking about the lives lost to drunk driving and crimes committed under the influence of alcohol, hundreds of teen pregnancies that result —physical, social and emotional damages that weigh down on our children and our future,” he said.

Snyder said ultimately the program will develop best practices that can be replicated throughout the state to deal with underage drinking, which he said is “a real problem in North Carolina.”

He said the research also shows that the average age for trying alcohol in the state is 13 years old.
Numerous local law enforcement representatives and advocates attended to show support for the program. Winston-Salem Police Chief Barry Rountree said the program helps tackle a problem his officers see all too often: underage drinking.

“What we see from the law enforcement point of view is that it has lasting effects on them and the community,” he said

Capt. Jeff Watson of the Special Operation Division also said it was a serious issue. He’s over the DWI Taskforce, which specializes in looking for drivers under the influence of drugs or alcohol and provides educational programs in high schools discouraging such behavior.



“It’s hard for adults to make good decisions when they’ve been drinking, and then when you add age and maturity, or the lack there of, into that mix, it just makes things worse.”

Ava Troxler, executive director of the Coalition for Drug Abuse Prevention, called the new program “terrific.”

The 25 year-old locally based Coalition does awareness, education and statewide advocacy to discourage the abuse of alcohol and other drugs.

In recent years, it’s fought against privatization of ABC Stores in the state and the availability of fruit-flavored alcoholic drinks, which are popular with teens.

Troxler has advocated against underage drinking since 1981, when a 10-year-old boy her husband coached in youth soccer was killed by a 16-year-old drunk driver. She said she was glad to see the ABC Commission taking action.

“I am thrilled to see them make this a priority, to understand the seriousness of the issue, to understand that it’s not just a right of passage or kids doing things silly,” she said.

Talk It Out also includes education and awareness components aimed at the general teen population, funded by the ABC Commission, that includes commercials and a website,

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Todd Luck

Todd Luck

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