Statewide drinking prevention campaign targets young teens

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Wearing Fatal Goggles that simulate impairment, Sussex Central freshman Alexis Whalen tries her luck in a field test demonstration. At left is Robert Kracyla, Deputy Director of Delaware’s Department of Safety/Homeland Security Division of Alcohol and Tobacco Enforcement. (Sussex County Post/Glenn Rolfe).

GEORGETOWN – Statistics are sobering.

Impacts can be long-lasting, destructive and tragic.

Sussex Central High School freshmen Thursday learned of the affects and danger of alcohol consumption as part of Delaware Department of Health and Social Services’ concerted effort to reduce the impact of addiction with a kickoff of a statewide campaign to prevent underage and binge drinking.

“As I am sure you know our state is being severely impacted by the disease known as addiction. Far too many individuals are being impacted,” said DHSS Secretary Rita Landgraf.  “And when we ask the adults that come to us for treatment, and who are in recovery they always tell us that they started down this path as teenagers. So it is critically important to us that we embark upon an education and prevention campaign relative not only to underage drinking but also for drinking in general.”

“I was unfortunate to lose a very close friend to drinking and driving when I was 18, so this program is certainly near and dear to my heart,” said Matt Jones, Assistant Principal at Sussex Central.

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Robert Kracyla, Department of Safety/Homeland Security Division of Alcohol and Tobacco Enforcement Deputy Director, lends a helping hand as Matt Moore struggles to keep his balance in a simulate impairment demonstration. (Sussex County Post/Glenn Rolfe).

“All lives matter … and we do not want to see you or your friends impaired, injured, arrested or worst of all losing your life to addiction,” said Sec. Landgraf.

“A bad decision you make now could be a bad decision that affects you the rest of your life,” Robert Kracyla, Deputy Director of the Delaware Department of Safety/Homeland Security’s Division of Alcohol/Tobacco Enforcement.  “So don’t think that because your friend’s mom invites you over and she gives you beer it’s OK. It’s not OK.”

According to Sec. Landgraf, binge drinkers – defined as five or more drinks for males; four or more by females in two hours in one sitting – are “more likely to be injured, to suffer alcohol poisoning, to have an unplanned pregnancy, to acquire a socially transmitted disease, be a victim of physical assault or sexual assault, or worse, to be permanently disabled or … lose their life.”

With kickoffs in all three counties, the new campaign is an extension of DHSS’ existing “Underage? Understand. Don’t Drink!” campaign. It features separate messaging for underage drinking prevention aimed at young people age 12 to 20, the adults who influence them, and binge drinking prevention for young people up to age 25.

“One of the most important messages we can share with young people is about the dangers associated with underage and binge drinking,” Gov. Jack Markell said. “We must convince young people that underage and binge drinking can do serious physical or emotional harm to them or to others.”

In English and Spanish, the campaign includes billboard, bus, print, TV, radio, online, movie theater and social media marketing, plus messages in schools and stores. The campaign is divided into three distinct messages:

  • The theme of the underage drinking prevention campaign is “Drinking Hurts Thinking,” with a unique website address – DrinkingHurtsThinking.com – that links to HelpIsHereDE.com, DHSS’ site for information and resources on addiction prevention, treatment and recovery. On DrinkingHurtsThinking.com, young people will find information about the physical, emotional and legal problems they could face if they drink alcohol before age 21.
  • In the campaign aimed at adults who influence young people, parents and other adults are encouraged to talk with their kids about underage drinking, to “Open up – before they do.” The website for that part of the campaign is www.HelpIsHereDE.com/underage and includes warning signs and resources for parents who are concerned that their underage children might be drinking.
  • In the campaign to prevent binge drinking, young people will learn what constitutes binge drinking, be warned about its dangers, and be able to assess their risks in an online quiz at a unique website address – AmIABingeDrinker.com. That address also links to the HelpIsHereDE website.

“This aggressive campaign is critical to our overall strategy of reducing the toll that the addiction epidemic is taking in our state,” DHSS Secretary Rita Landgraf said. “Our young people need to know that using and abusing alcohol can be harmful to their immediate health and can be the first step down a path that eventually leads to addiction. Education and prevention are important to helping them understand those risks.”

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Delaware Department of Health and Social Services Secretary Rita Landgraf poses a question to Sussex Central freshman David Knox, right, as classmates Christina Marchais and Cole Benfer look on during a kickoff event Thursday in the state’s campaign on underage drinking and binge drinking prevention.

The Center for Drug & Alcohol Studies at the University of Delaware found that 31 percent of 11th-graders in Delaware reported using alcohol at least once in the past month in 2014, with 57 percent saying they had used it in the past year and 65 percent saying they had used it in their lifetimes.

Among eighth-graders, 13 percent reported at least monthly use of alcohol, with 26 percent saying they had used it within the past year and 34 percent in their lifetimes.

In a 2014 study of binge drinking by the UD Center for Drug & Alcohol Studies, 61 percent of UD students surveyed said they had drunk five or more drinks in a single sitting in the past month. Males (65 percent) were more likely to engage in binge drinking than were females (58 percent).

For 2007-2011, 18 percent of all unintentional deaths in Delaware among young people age 15-24 were alcohol-related.

Several SCHS students took the stage as volunteers, donning “Fatal Goggles” in demonstrations orchestrated by Mr. Kracyla on alcohol impairment simulating various blood/alcohol levels.

Ninth graders also heard the real-life story of Clint Ferrazzo, a 19-year-old Caravel Academy senior who touched on his recovery from alcohol addiction that started when he was 14.

“I am offering you an experience,” said Clint. “Whether you are poor, whether you’re a millionaire … it affects everybody. It just doesn’t seem to be picky. I suffer from the same problem. I hope none of you have to deal with it.”

Coming from his own experience, Clint thinks the high school epidemic “comes down to acceptance; a general need to be accepted. You’re a part of the crowd.”

“It did not bode well for me. I kind of lost everything that kind of meant everything to me. I had a really good wrestling career … my grades slipped. I was pretty much a lonely guy,” he said. “On the outside I had a nice car, a great family, I went to a great school, and I was kind of dying inside.”

But he fought back. And this past spring, he reigned as Delaware’s 138-pound state champ – his second state title – and is headed to college in neighboring Maryland.

“I am basically here to tell you there is a way to come back from it. I came back and I won two state titles in wrestling and I have a lot of academic success. I have a beautiful life in front of me,” said Clint, who advocates prevention. “Stay away from it. Just don’t pick up any alcohol.”

Coincidentally, the program presented at Sussex Central aligns with instruction.

“Here at Sussex Central the freshmen are the students that get scheduled into the health classes. It just so happens that the next unit that they will be covering kind of correlates with this topic,” Mr. Jones. “I think it’s really important to not only push the legal side of it – because I think everybody knows the legal ramifications of underage drinking – but the health impact that can be long lasting. The more awareness we can raise, the better. It seems to me like the nature of our society is that it is almost more and more acceptable for these underage kids to drink. It’s good that the message here at Sussex Central is that it’s not OK – for a variety of reasons.

News Editor Glenn Rolfe can be reached at grolfe@newszap.com

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