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Host of problems



I would like to respond to Richard Prawdzienski's commentary in the July 11, 2007, issue of Oklahoma Gazette, in which he states that "social host laws destroy families and family values."


Prawdzienski seems to believe that government is overstepping its authority by enforcing social host laws.


However, the reality is that there is a minimum drinking age law in Oklahoma.


More than 20 years ago, communities across the United States realized that alcohol and young people don't mix. Acts to reduce underage drinking evolved from information tying the effects of alcohol to a high number of motor vehicle fatalities among young people.


In 1982, nearly half of all fatally injured drivers under age 21 had high blood alcohol content when they were killed in car accidents. By 2001, that percentage had declined to 26 percent.


Traffic fatalities aren't the only consequence of underage drinking. When we think about kids who drink, including at locations where adults are present and condoning the behavior, we tend to forget about some of the other consequences of underage drinking: suicide, sexual assault, school problems, teen pregnancy, juvenile crime, unintentional injuries, drowning, kids on foot getting hit by cars, damage to the developing adolescent brain and the greatly increased risk that these children will go on to become alcoholics as adults.


The reality is that youth who drink before age 15 are four times more likely to develop alcohol dependence than those who begin drinking at age 21.


Most parents would agree that one child dying from the consequences of underage drinking is one too many, especially if it is their child.


Certainly, parents have a right to make decisions that affect their children. But, a parent's decision about his or her children should not affect anyone else's children. And that is what adults are doing when they host parties for adolescents that include alcohol, or allow such events to occur on their property or in their houses.


A common belief some adults have is that youth are less likely to get into trouble if they're drinking alcohol at home or on an adult's property.


But, for minors, drinking alcohol is never safe.


As adults, we must reject the notion that "kids are going to drink anyway." By allowing it, condoning it or providing it, adults are contributing to the problem.


The reality is that an intoxicated youth is not only a danger to himself or herself, but to others, as well.


The enforcement of social host laws is a statement from the community that enough is enough. And these laws are working. Interest in social host laws is rising across the state because they are an effective tool to cut down the dangers of underage drinking.


Oklahoma does have an underage drinking problem. Statistics " as well as the far too many tragic newspaper headlines concerning the senseless loss of young lives " support this. Based on the facts, the sooner a statewide social host law is passed, the better. Because nobody has the right to provide alcohol to other people's children.


White is commissioner of the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services.


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