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SAMHSA News - November/December 2005, Volume 13, Number 6

Efforts To Stop Underage Drinking

Part 1
Nearly 29 percent of young people age 12 to 20 say they're already drinking, according to SAMHSA's 2004 National Survey on Drug Use and Health. Almost 20 percent are binge drinkers, downing five or more drinks at a time.

These young people are putting themselves at immediate risk of car crashes, educational failure, unwanted pregnancy, violence, and other problems. They're also jeopardizing their futures: Young people who begin drinking before they're 15 are a whopping five times more likely to develop alcohol problems later in life than those who wait until they're 21.

Now the Federal Government has launched an unprecedented collaboration focused on keeping kids from taking that first drink.

The Interagency Coordinating Committee on the Prevention of Underage Drinking (ICCPUD), chaired by SAMHSA Administrator Charles G. Curie, M.A., A.C.S.W., comprises representatives from several Government agencies (see Interagency Coordinating Committee Members).

Together they developed a comprehensive plan for combating underage drinking. Among other activities, the committee and its members have already brought together teams of senior state officials. They received the U.S. Surgeon General's commitment to issue a call to action.

"Over the years, we've made great progress in reducing tobacco and illicit drug use among our Nation's young people," said Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Mike Leavitt. "Underage alcohol use has been a tougher and more persistent problem. However, the solutions are well within our grasp."

ICCPUD's plan centers on three objectives: strengthening the Nation's commitment to fighting underage drinking, reducing the demand for and availability of alcohol among youth, and using research to improve the effectiveness of prevention efforts.

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Strengthening Commitment

In the fall, SAMHSA and ICCPUD sponsored a national meeting bringing together teams from nearly every state, territory, and the District of Columbia. (States in the Gulf region will meet later.)

Composed of senior state officials and professionals in the prevention, health, alcohol control, education, enforcement, and highway safety fields, these state teams received the latest information about the scope of underage drinking, its consequences, and evidence-based strategies for addressing the problem. They had a chance to discuss their state's current efforts and ways of strengthening those efforts. And they brainstormed about how their states will participate in a series of town hall meetings in the spring.

"Alcohol is the most widely used substance of abuse among America's youth," Mr. Curie told conference participants. "For too long, underage drinking has been accepted as a rite of passage. Far too many young people, their friends, and families have paid the price. I encourage you to use every means available to help more and more Americans understand the consequences of underage alcohol use."

A highlight of the 2-day event was the announcement by Surgeon General Richard H. Carmona, M.D., M.P.H., that he would issue a call to action on underage drinking.

"The health of our children is in jeopardy," Vice Admiral Carmona said via video hookup. "I will work with all of you and with my partners at SAMHSA, the National Institute of Mental Health, and the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) to develop and release the first Surgeon General's call to action on the issue of underage drinking, so that every single person in this country understands the negative health, social, and family consequences of underage drinking."

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Interagency Coordinating Committee Members

The Interagency Coordinating Committee on the Prevention of Underage Drinking consists of representatives from several Government agencies:

U.S. Department of Defense
Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Health Affairs)

U.S. Department of Education
Office of Safe and Drug-Free Schools

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
Administration for Children and Families
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism
Office of the Surgeon General
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration

U.S. Department of Justice
Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention

U.S. Department of Transportation
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration

U.S. Department of Treasury
Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau

Office of National Drug Control Policy
Federal Trade Commission (ex officio)

Bureau of Consumer Protection.

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