- The Washington Times - Friday, August 22, 2008



For nearly as long as I can remember, I have been engaged in the terrible battle against the No. 1 killer of our nation’s youth - underage drinking. Through my work with the International Institute for Alcohol Awareness and the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation, I am continually reminded of the harmful consequences that young people, their families and others have to endure because of the young who illegally and irresponsibly use and abuse alcohol.

Few can comprehend the anguish of losing a child, sister or friend, taken before his or her time. Hopefully, more can appreciate and understand the frustration of losing a loved one, without going through the heartache of being victimized by a tragedy that could have been prevented if underage drinkers had no access to alcohol.

It is troubling to learn that college presidents from some of the nation’s top universities are joining together in asking lawmakers to consider lowering the drinking age from 21 to 18. It is unfathomable why these university presidents would consider lowering the legal drinking age so they don’t have to deal with this serious problem on their campuses or because carding and policing underage students is a nuisance and reverse the progress we’ve made. One of their arguments that the current laws encourage college students to binge drink is ridiculous and there is no evidence to support it. In fact, scientific studies have proven the exact opposite.

Rather than put their energy behind lowering the drinking age, universities should expend more efforts to reduce alcohol abuse on their campuses. We need to challenge their efforts with the truth: These university presidents are pandering to both alumni and industry interests that both profit and benefit from alcohol on campuses.

College-age youth constitute the demographic group in which heavy and irresponsible drinking is the highest. Binge drinking is so prevalent among college students it has been declared an “epidemic.” Among college students between ages 18 and 24, alcohol is involved in about 599,000 injuries, 696,000 assaults, 97,000 sexual assaults and 1,700 deaths from unintentional injuries, including car crashes, every year.

In the midst of this dark cloud of ignorance, I found a silver lining. I was happy to hear that 358 of the colleges in the NCAA recently endorsed a “College Commitment” pledge to eliminate alcohol advertising in televised college sports in hopes of preventing and reducing alcohol problems among college students and underage youth.

I’m sure these university presidents’ experiences on the front line, dealing with the expensive, tragic and deadly results of underage drinking, has brought them to action against one of the most powerful industries in our country. It can’t be easy to explain to a parent of one of their students why their child won’t be coming home, especially when what killed them is completely preventable and absolutely unnecessary.

What can we do to end underage drinking? We can support the efforts that are already in place by our local law enforcement and community groups. Organizations like the Underage Drinking Training Center and the Enforcing Underage Drinking Laws program have been working to prevent underage drinking for over a decade now and are having success.

I will be in Nashville, Tenn., this month at the National Leadership Conference, along with other law enforcement officers and community activists from around the country, learning the latest strategies to prevent underage drinking in their communities.

Enough tragedy, heartache and death already exist in the world. We shouldn’t fuel an already serious social problem by lowering the drinking age. Underage drinking kills, and we should work toward prevention policies to reducing the nearly 2,000 deaths that occur each year as a result of underage drinking. I can’t think of any rational reason why innocent people should have to die so that a few kids can have a drink. Not one!

I urge all who care about our young people’s future to call for sound policies and to firmly remind and educate our legislators and college and university administrators to take underage drinking laws seriously and not support legislation that will lead to deadly consequences for our young people.

As the surviving family and friends of the victims of this tragedy already know, underage drinking not only affect the young people who indulge in it. Underage drinking a profound affect on the individuals, families and communities forced to live with the consequences.

When someone decides to illegally or irresponsibly consume alcohol or any other drug, they - and all those around them - must deal with the dangerous and painful consequences of that choice.

Let’s learn from the unfortunate mistakes that have already been made and not allow a vicious social scourge like underage drinking claim any more of our nation’s youth. Instead, we should keep our youth safe by enforcing the current minimum legal drinking age and by doing our part to educate our youth on this issue and to support community programs and efforts aimed at preventing underage drinking. I hope nobody ever has to suffer the pain and anguish followed by having their friend or family member so tragically stripped from their lives in order to accommodate policymakers or university presidents seeking an easy way out from assuming their responsibility to protect all citizens and students

Jim Copple is a senior policy analyst at the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation.

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