Public health officials in Massachusetts and a non-profit provider of mental health and substance abuse treatment are working to reduce underage drinking in the state’s third largest city. A prevention plan has been developed based on the results of a survey of 8th graders in Springfield to determine reasons for underage drinking. WAMC”s Pioneer Valley Bureau Chief Paul Tuthill reports.
High school students in Springfield report lower drinking rates than the state average , 66 percent to 68 percent. But, 25 percent of Springfield high school students report having their first drink before age 13, with some saying they took their first drink at age 9.
Peggy Vezina, a consultant working for the Stop Access Springfield Coalition on its campaign to curtail underage drinking surveyed just over 1200 Springfield 8th graders. Nearly 45 percent said they’ve had a drink.
Vezina said the children reported alcohol is an almost constant presence in their daily lives.
Of the 8th graders who have had a drink more than half said they got alcohol from a relative.
In addition to identify factors that increase the risk of underage drinking, the survey also sought ways to reduce the risk. 14 year old Michael Preston said his peers need stronger education about right vs wrong, and also more opportunities for involvement.
Based on the data, the Stop Access coalition has developed strategies to prevent underage drinking. Ann Cruz, the coalition’s policy coordinator says at the top of the list is the effort to convince people that underage drinking is a serious problem.
The campaign against underage drinking in Springfield is a project of the Gandara Center, a non profit that provides mental health and substance abuse treatment. The underage drinking initiative is funded by a grant from the Massachusetts Department of Public Health
Frank Robinson, executive director of Partners For A Healthier Community in Springfield said there is a high concentration of package stores and bars in the inner city neighborhoods.
The Stop Access coalition hopes to recruit people to have large turn outs for future meetings of the Springfield License Commission, to oppose additional liquor licenses in neighborhoods that already have a large number of alcohol outlets.