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CASA member; Patricia Hincken, chair of the Long Beach Coalition to Prevent Underage Drinking; Judi Vining, coordinator of the Long Beach Coalition to Prevent Underage Drinking; Karin Schlereth, CASA community coordinator; Legislator Judi Bosworth and Councilwoman Kitty Poons attend the Jan. 20 CASA meeting at town hall. Photo by Pat Grace

The Manhasset Coalition Against Substance Abuse (CASA), Inc. has been working with similar groups in other communities to understand how to effectively address substance abuse in its own community.

As part of this process, CASA sponsored a community forum at the end of last year to gather input and information from various members of the larger Manhasset community regarding their perceptions on youth substance abuse. The meeting was very well attended and several parents voiced concern about the culture of drinking in the community and how, at times, they feel isolated combating the use of alcohol by their teenagers.

Karin Schlereth, CASA community coordinator, arranged for another meeting Jan. 20 at town hall as part of an ongoing parent series because Schlereth acknowledged after the first meeting, "we realized while we are concerned with policy, parents are dealing with the problems now."

The second session was run by two women, Judi Vining, coordinator of the Long Beach Coalition to Prevent Underage Drinking and Patricia Hincken, chair of the Long Beach Coalition to Prevent Underage Drinking, a coalition that has enjoyed great success. In 2006 it was on the cover of Newsday, being the first town in Nassau County to enact a Social Host Ordinance. Long Beach, they said, is predominately a beach community covering 3.5 square miles with 77 places to buy liquor.

The information provided was excellent and practical--the concept most often stated, restated and stated again: Environmental prevention is the key to producing population level change. Put another way, "your community is ideally suited to create and support the behavior you are trying to change."

They counseled that underage drinking is not a rite of passage. It's a major health emergency. A statistic for this century, Vining said, is if a child begins to drink on a regular basis by 15 that child has an increased chance, by 40 percent, to have a drinking problem over someone who begins in their 20s.

Also thought provoking was their recalling that prior to science determining no amount of liquor is safe for a developing fetus, pregnant women drank. Vining said it's the same with today's information: scientific studies now show brain damage occurs in developing teens.

Kids drink and some ask, "What's so bad?" It was said kids drink differently, that teenagers' physiology processes liquor differently, and today they don't have one or two drinks, but half a bottle or 12 beers. They consume a staggering amount. It's very dangerous for the ones doing it.

Other statements made by the pair:

"The problems are a reflection of community norms, not individual attitudes, therefore target the policy makers.

"Behavior is based on environment, so focus on the fact behavior is driven by the environment.

"The push to lower the legal drinking age comes from colleges who don't want the liability of students drinking illegally on campus.

"We make it too easy for teens to drink. The best place to get beer is right next to the milk. When children are little we hid cleaning chemicals. Do the same now with liquor.

"The more organizations you expand to, the more organizations that buy in. That's what a coalition is, shared responsibility, building relationships. It is suited to bring about environmental change.

"Prevention can be increased enforcement, limiting access to illegal substances, conducting compliance checks. Most underage students entering stores to purchase liquor are served.

"Address adult attitudes and reduce teen use of illegal substances.

"Lock the liquor cabinet."

It was said adults need to provide information, and schools do a good job of that. A parent noted this year the school has a new Breathalyzer policy and while they don't test each student, they can if drinking is suspected. The existing policy means the subject is taken seriously.

Another parent said there are problems to be addressed house by house. "We are a type A community, very educated. It feeds into a natural reluctance to look at the problem. How do we address the problem?"

The answer was to rely on the scientific reasons because that takes it out of the realm of good parent, bad parent.

The women suggested building a relationship with the police. Having claimed that the more organizations you expand to, the better the chance to bring about environmental change, Hincken said she stepped on a sacred cow trying to control liquor on Irish Day. But sometimes, she said, people will surprise you and say OK.

Speaking of resistance Hincken said there is a food pyramid for educational purposes but an alcohol pyramid met with no reinforcement.

It is when you step into the adult world that you meet resistance, Vining said, adding they have a Social Host Law in Long Beach for individuals 16 years old and older. A Social Host Law has teeth in it, she said, and everyone should be aware of the implications. It is possible to curb drinking at parties, Hincken said. Remember how everyone smoked in public places and few used their seat belts? Those rules are now observed because they carry a steep fine.

Most discussion was about liquor but Legislator Judi Bosworth mentioned the recent landmark legislation that requires law enforcement to notify school officials when an arrest is made for heroin possession and/or sale. The bill is expected to combat the growing problem of teenage heroin addiction in the suburbs by improving communication between police and school officials. A parent remarked, "When I hear heroin I shut down and tell myself, 'not here.'" Not so, she was told, it's now a cheap drug, $5 can buy a bag. It does not carry the same connotation as years ago and it is an issue in every community.

Next week look for an article on the Social Host Law and how it affects you.


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