2010-06-02 / Front Page

Underage teen drinking target of billboards

Sign campaign debuts in time for graduation parties
BY PHIL FOLEY 810-452-2616 • pfoley@mihomepaper.com

This billboard is located on I-69 near M-53 in Imlay Township. This billboard is located on I-69 near M-53 in Imlay Township. LAPEER COUNTY — June, among other things, means graduation and that means graduation parties.

For those who think that high school graduation parties include a keg of beer or a tub of other adult beverages, Lapeer County Sheriff Ron Kalanquin and Prosecutor Byron Konschuh have a simple message, “Provide alcohol to minors and your party ends here.”

Konschuh and Kalanquin’s faces will be popping up on billboards all over the county reminding parents and others that “It’s up to adults to prevent underage drinking.”

It’s part of a three county program being run through a grant managed by Clair County Community Mental Health.

Jim Johnson, St. Clair County Community Mental Health’s Clinical/CA Director, said his agency has contracted with Lamar Advertising to put up 22 billboard’s in Lapeer, Sanilac and St. Clair counties through the end of September.

“This is a new initiative for us,” he said.

In 1990 Lapeer County ranked 16th for minors involved in alcohol-related vehicle crashes, said Lapeer County Undersheriff Bob Rapson.

That led the county to pass an Open House Ordinance, which holds parents responsible for underage drinking on their property. That ordinance eventually became a state law.

Still, said Rapson, “we’re finding underage drinking is still a substantial problem” across the county.

In talking to high school students across the county,” Konschuh commented, “We’re finding it’s common practice for people to think it’s okay to let kids drink at home.” That’s just not the case, he said.

“It’s like herding cats,” he said. Konschuh added that people who let teens drink at home are going to find problems spilling into their neighborhood and out into the wider community.

“My message is,” said Konschuh, “there’s no safe time to let teenagers drink.”

Konschuh said conviction of allowing minors to consume drugs or alcohol on premises is a misdemeanor that carries a maximum penalty of 30 days in jail and/or a $1,000 fine. Actually providing minors alcohol can net an adult up to 60 days behind bars, along with a maximum fine of $1,000.

Johnson noted that 26.3 percent of the people being treated for alcohol abuse through The Thumb Alliance Prepaid Inpatient Health Plan are under the age of 21. The Thumb Alliance Prepaid Inpatient Health Plan offers mental health and substance abuse programs in Lapeer, Sanilac and St. Clair counties.

Currently, said Johnson, 650 people are enrolled in alcohol treatment programs through the plan and Lapeer County represents about a third of the total.

Johnson said that while underage drinking seems to be a “pretty consistent problem everywhere, we still run into pockets where people think, ‘drinking at home is okay, because it’s with me.’”

He said his agency has found that 60 percent of the young people it treats for substance abuse, started out with an alcohol problem.

Johnson said that while alcohol-related crashes seem to be on a general decline over the three county region served by his agency, more needs to be done to cut down on underage drinking and marijuana use.

That, he said, is what he decided to partner with sheriffs and prosecutors in Lapeer, Sanilac and St. Clair counties. He said in addition to the 22 billboards he’s paying for, Lamar Advertising offered to kick in an extra two in the area on a monthly basis, depending on what they have open.

He said Lapeer County will have at least four billboards, including the largest in the region on I-69 near M-53. He said there will be two more on M-53 and a fourth on M-24.

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