Youth-led meeting today takes on underage drinking

First Posted: 4/19/2012

PEMBROKE — Around a long table at Robeson Health Care Corporation, Latasha Murray talks about young people abusing alcohol.

“I attended a legislative meeting addressing the issue and one of the young people stood up and said, ‘I don’t want more alcohol outlets in my community than there are parks,’” she said.

Murray is the director of prevention services for Robeson Health Care Corporation, which is partnering with The University of North Carolina at Pembroke’s Youth Start Program to hold a youth-led town hall meeting called “Living Above the Influence: Addressing Underage Drinking,” The event is today at 5:30 p.m. at the Robeson Health Care Corporation, which is at COMtech.

Food and refreshments will be provided for free, and prizes, such as Walmart gift cards, will be given away.

Youths from the Youth Start Program, including students from all six public high schools in the county, will lead the meeting by presenting facts about underage drinking and how the community can combat the problem.

“We’ve seen that getting youth to communicate the message out to the community is a lot more effective,” Murray said.

Cierra Collins, a senior at Purnell Swett High School and a participant in the Youth Start Program, will be speaking at the event. She just wants her peers to know that there are better ways to have fun that don’t involve being under the influence.

“And plus,” Collins said, “I’ve had a family member die from being in an accident caused by alcohol. He was my cousin. It was six years ago.”

According to 1st Sgt. Ardeen Hunt of the state Highway Patrol, during 2011 there were 10 alcohol-related crashes that killed 12 people in Robeson County.

Murray said the average age of young people taking their first drink in Robeson County is 9 years old. That’s younger than the national average, which, according to a 2011 report by Johns Hopkins University, puts the average age at which young people begin drinking at 13 years old.

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, approximately 10 percent of 12-year-old children say they have used alcohol at least once. By age 13 that number doubles. And by age 15, approximately 50 percent have had at least one drink.

The town hall meeting, which will include talks and skits by young people, will give information on steps parents can take to prevent underage drinking.

“It hasn’t really clicked with a lot of parents that storing their alcohol is important so that it’s not accessible,” Murray said. “Students all over the U.S. report that the No. 1 access point for alcohol is in the home.

“It’s also important for parents to sit down and talk with their children about drugs and alcohol. When they do, it more than doubles the chance that kids will not use these substances.”