District Attorney Hosts Conference on Preventing Underage Drinking

On April 28, 2009, two hundred law enforcement officers, educators, coaches, medical professionals, youth and social service providers joined District Attorney David F. Capeless and Secretary of the Executive Office of Public Safety and Security Kevin M. Burke at the Crowne Plaza in Pittsfield for a day-long training, Preventing Underage Drinking: A Community Approach.

The training, sponsored by the District Attorney's Office and the Berkshire Youth Development Project, built on past and current collaborative efforts to curb underage drinking in Berkshire County. The conference was supported by a grant from the US Department of Justice through the Executive Office of Public Safety and Security. Other collaborators included the Pittsfield Prevention Partnership, Northern Berkshire Community Coalition, South Berkshire Youth Coalition, Western Massachusetts Center for Healthy Communities, and Berkshire Health Systems.

Underage drinking is a critical health problem affecting communities all over the nation, and Berkshire County is no different. The statistics are disturbing. Alcohol is the number one drug of choice for America's teens and is used more than any illicit drug. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAA), alcoholic beverages are implicated in the three top causes of teen deaths: accidents (particularly traffic fatalities and drowning), suicide and homicide. Young people who begin drinking before age 15 are 4 times more likely to develop alcohol dependence and are 2½ times more likely to become alcohol abusers than those that begin drinking at age 21.

The conference brought together stakeholders in the lives of children to increase their understanding of the origins and impact of underage drinking and provide them with the knowledge that their role is an important component in the prevention effort in our community.

The effectiveness of prevention efforts is enhanced when they are comprehensive and include community-wide policies, laws, and sanctions. Attendees were given strategies and skills to work together and respond consistently and uniformly to incidents of underage drinking.

The training featured presentations from Dr. Jennifer Michaels, Medical Director at the Brien Center, on The Effects of Alcohol on the Adolescent Brain; John Underwood, President of the American Athletic Institute, on Developing Student Athlete Leadership to Confront Chemical Health; Travis Bruyer, Detective and Coordinator of the Alcohol Enforcement Team at the Flathead Valley, Montana, Sheriff's Department, on Proven Law Enforcement & Community Strategies to Curb Underage Drinking; Bill Phillips, President of New Beginnings, on Chemical Dependency, Assessing the Problem; and Harry Sheehy, Athletic Director at Williams College, on Raising a Team Player: Values for Life and Sports.

Also featured was the Massachusetts State Police Breath Alcohol Testing (BAT) mobile, which is used at sobriety check points and allows Massachusetts State Police to safely and effectively process impaired drivers, removing them from the roadway of the Commonwealth.

For further information on the conference, please call Community Outreach and Education at 413-443-5951.