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Forum sheds light on underage drinking

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ECU professor Jennifer Matthews presents on underage drinking in Pitt County, during a forum Wednesday night at the Alice Keene District Park.


By Tyler Stocks
The Daily Reflector

Friday, April 19, 2019

Ten percent of Pitt County high school students surveyed in 2017 said they consume five or more alcoholic drinks in one sitting.

Findings like this have prompted the Pitt County Council on Substance Abuse to raise awareness of underage drinking through workshops, forums and community events.  

The council hosted a forum on Wednesday night at the Alice Keene District Park, 4561 County Home Road. 

Jennifer  Matthews, a health education professor at East Carolina University presented research on underage drinking and its effects on the community and youth.   

“Almost 3,000 high school students completed the survey and about 21 percent of high school students report consuming at least one alcoholic beverage in the past thirty days,” Matthew told the audience. “That’s pretty average with what we see nationwide.

“(Teens) are saying they’re getting alcohol from friends or siblings. typically friends or siblings being over the age of 21,” Matthews said. 

She said that teens have moved from beer to liquor and begin drinking as early as age 13 or 14. The source of the alcohol primarily comes from parties hosted by friends, parents or college students who allow them to sneak in. 

“Thirty-five percent of Pitt County High School students reported drinking at a college party and most people in Pitt County start drinking between the ages of 13 and 16,” Matthews said.  

Matthews added that alcohol use increases from freshman year to senior year in high school.

Abigail Yoon, 15, who attends D.H. Conley High School, is a member of the substance abuse council’s youth council.  She and her peers explained the Good Samaritan law, which states that individuals who experience a drug overdose or people who witness an overdose and seek help for the victim no longer will be prosecuted for possession of small amounts of drugs, paraphernalia or underage drinking.

The purpose of the law is to remove the fear of criminal repercussions for calling 911 to report an overdose, and to instead focus efforts on getting help to the victim. 

Yoon said she decided to become involved with the council to learn more about alcohol abuse and to help educate her peers and members of the community.  

“I joined (the council) initially because I wanted to learn more about alcohol abuse, especially among youth because I’ve seen my peers affected by it,” Yoon said.  “As a member, I’ve learned how to raise awareness on the issue. 

“I think (underage drinking) … affects every single person and all of us need to collectively work together to end this issue,” Yoon said. “If you are a parent, your child may be using alcohol as a coping mechanism and you not know about it. It’s good to talk about alcohol and know how it affects you, especially long term.”    

Chief Shane Wells, an officer from Pitt County Alcohol Law Enforcement, said that underage drinking is a big problem in Pitt County, especially with Greenville being a college town.  

One of the major issues he and his staff face is people using fake IDs to purchase alcohol and to gain access to clubs.  

“Kids are saying they’re buying IDs just to get into a club cheaper but that’s not true,” Wells said.

Wells said parents and other adults should not downplay underage drinking, adding that ALE is prepared to arrest and charge adults who give alcohol to those younger than of 21.  

“When you talk to these parents, they say, ‘Well, it’s just a drinking ticket and when I was college’’ — I don’t care what you did when you were in college. This is the law; you’re breaking the law and it’s going to be dealt with,” Wells said.

“It is against the law for a parent to give your child alcohol,” he said. “If we catch you giving your child alcohol, we’re going to charge you and them. Regardless if you’re in your home, it’s against the law and if we find out and can prove it, we’re going to charge you.”

Wells said ALE is beginning to crack down on ECU.

“Until we stop it, I don’t see it stopping anytime soon,” he said. “I don’t feel sorry for them. We’ll write every one of them a ticket. I don’t care if their parents are the pope, if you get a ticket, you can go talk to the pope about getting out of it.

“We’re not holding back and we’ll probably start charging more,” Wells said.  

To learn more about the substance abuse council, visit pccsa.org.   

Contact Tyler Stocks at tstocks@reflector.com or 252-329-9566.