LUMBERTON — Attorney General Roy Cooper on Wednesday called on children and adults to communicate with each other about the dangers of underage drinking and prescription-drug abuse.
“To the young people who are here, who know better than us adults do about things we can do to keep you safe, it’s important for all of us as adults to continue to communicate with them and let them tell us the challenges that they face out there,” said Cooper, who was the keynote speaker at the ninth annual Orange Ribbon Kick-off luncheon presented by Palmer Prevention.
Cooper said that young people who start drinking before age 15 are four times more likely to develop alcohol dependency and 2.5 times more likely to become alcohol abusers than those who start drinking after age 21. He cited “alco-pops” — flavored alcoholic beverages containing fruit juices and large amounts of alcohol — as a particular danger to young people.
One of those drinks, Four Loko, contains 12 percent alcohol in a 23.5-ounce can, or the equivalent of four to five beers, Cooper said, adding that his office has come to refer to these drinks as a “binge in a can.”
Cooper said government agencies have made progress, first with getting caffeine stimulants removed from some of the drinks. Soon, manufacturers will be required to post on the can how many alcoholic drinks one can comprises, he said.
“We don’t think that is enough,” he said. “We believe that for those type of drinks, the Federal Trade Commission should actually limit the amount of alcohol that is in these drinks.”
Another problem facing young people is the abuse of prescription drugs such as oxycodone, valium and Ritalin. Overdoses of prescription medication is the leading cause of death due to unintentional injury in the United States, surpassing even auto accidents.
“People think that because the pill is legal that they don’t need to worry about it and it’s not as dangerous as meth or heroin or cocaine,” he said. “Wrong. It can be much more deadly because it is much more powerful.”
Cooper said about two-thirds of young people get prescription drugs from their own home or from a friend, and that some medications can sell for as much as $50 per pill on the street.
The Attorney General’s Office has implemented efforts to fight prescription drug abuse, including medicine drops across the state that allow people to dispose of dated medicine. Pharmacies are now required to ask for photo identification before dispensing certain narcotics, Cooper said.
Badges for Baseball, an initiative of the Cal Ripken Sr. Foundation, pairs law enforcement professionals with North Carolina youths as mentors and coaches.
“Young people in middle school are making real choices in their lives,” Cooper said. “Are they gonna resist the urge to join that gang? Are they gonna resist the urge to abuse substances?”
Shauna Locklear, a 10th-grader at Purnell Swett High School, was one of several students selected by the school’s guidance counselor to attend the even.
“My mom used to work with Palmer Prevention … . It kind of got me interested in it, so I come to all of these events,” she said.
Destiny Locklear, also in 10th grade, said a relative fell victim to a prescription overdose.
“He took a bunch of pills, and one night he was on his way home from work and he got in an accident,” she said.
Palmer Prevention is a non-profit that was established in Robeson County in 1992 to prevent, delay or reduce the use of alcohol and other drugs among young people and their families.