Jul. 10—Local law enforcement officials say underage drinking isn’t as common as it used to be due to easier access to medical marijuana and prescription drugs.
Tahlequah Police Chief Nate King said they typically deal with underage drinking when Northeastern State University comes back into session in August.
“The new incoming freshmen, especially those first couple of weeks that NSU reports back, is probably when we see the most of that,” said King.
According to the Surgeon General, there are more than 4,300 alcohol-related deaths a year for underage people who drink. Alcohol is the most commonly used and abused drug in the U.S. and 14 percent of underage people in Oklahoma stated they consumed alcohol within a month.
“In all, over 7,350,000 young people said they drank at least one alcoholic beverage and 4,525,000 admitted to binge drinking within the last month. Looking specifically at day-to-day averages, those numbers mean 245,200 young people drink alcohol and 150,833 binge drink each day in the United States on average,” stated on the American Addiction Centers Oxford Treatment Center website.
However, King said things have started to shift where they are now dealing more with prescription drug use as opposed to underage drinking.
“We deal more with the prescription drug use and now with the medical marijuana in Oklahoma, we’re seeing more and more marijuana cases… especially at the high school,” he said.
King said because alcohol is a legal substance at a certain age made it an easy access for kids to get ahold of it.
“Parents may have a six-pack of beer, a bottle of liquor, or a full-bar at home and so it’s something we’ve seen historically, kids have access to more than other substances. Over the last few decades, with the rise in prescription drugs — through doctors’ legal prescription drugs — we started to see, once again, more and more homes in America where kids now have easy access to those prescription drugs,” said King.
The Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention used to award states funds for the Enforcing the Underage Drinking Laws Block Grant Program.
Project 21 was designed to tackle the root of underage drinking and crack down on places where minors bought alcohol. The project began in 2001 and King said he used to serve as a coordinator for it early in his law enforcement career.
“It was the Oklahoma initiative to reduce underage drinking and I was coordinator for the eastern half of the state. The program isn’t funded as much as it was, as the focus has changed some to those federal and state funds more to the prescription drugs,” he said.
TPD occasionally holds compliance checks where decoys pose as minors and attempt to purchase alcohol.
The check is usually conducted with two teams, each using a volunteer under age of 21.
Jeremy Adair, of Blackhawk Liquor, checks everyone’s ID who comes into the store and he said they haven’t had an issue with underage minors.
“The majority of the time that we have an issue with anyone underage is when they may come in to help their parent, and that’s fine because children can be accompanied by an adult as long as they don’t touch anything,” said Adair. “They can’t point out at something because that’s when I know it’ll be for them, or they’ll send someone else in and I’ll know it’s for them.”
The Alcoholic Beverage Laws Enforcement Commission has the authority to revoke the license of any licensee if they find a licensee who knowingly sold, delivered, or furnished alcohol to anyone under the age of 21.
The ABLE Commission can revoke licenses after a public hearing in that case.
According to the City Ordinances, it is a $285 fine for a minor to be in possession of low-point beer, and illegal for an adult to host an event or party where a minor could consume alcohol.
It is unlawful for any person having control of any premises to knowingly host, permit, or allow a gathering to take place at said premises where at least one minor consumes an alcoholic beverage, whenever the person having control of the premises either knows a minor has consumed an alcoholic beverage or reasonably should have known that a minor consumed an alcoholic beverage had the person taken all reasonable steps to prevent the consumption of an alcoholic beverage by a minor as set forth in this section.