OK: Impact of Alcohol: Responsibility reaches into community
By Kaylea M. Hutson-Miller
October 2, 2015
Editor’s Note: This is the final installment of a three part series examining the impact of alcohol use on young lives.
As community organizers and members of groups working to stem underage drinking, Kathleen Kennedy, Jessica Douthitt and Jennifer Hinson, work to spread the news about the dangers of social hosting.
As members of Communities Mobilizing for Change on Alcohol and Grand Nation Coalition, the women know education is key if communities in northeast Oklahoma hope to stop the growing trend of underage drinking.
They — and others — are working to raise awareness about the legal ramifications if a property owner knowingly violates the state’s Social Hosting Law.
That law, approved by the legislature in 2011, prosecutes anyone – minor and/or property owner – who knowingly allows alcohol to be given to minors.
The women know that fighting the use of alcohol among minors will take work. Often it means focusing on changing adult behaviors and community norms.
“We will effect change through adults,” Hinson said
A Social Hosting Example
What most likely was intended to be a gathering of friends gained nation-wide notoriety this summer, as hundreds of teens gathered on a farm on South Grand Lake for a party now known as Grove Tuesday.
The underage party, which reportedly drew between 200 and 500 people to the rural Delaware County location, took place in the early morning hours of July 29. Many reportedly learned of the party using social media including Snapchat and Instagram.
At the time of the incident, according to information released by the Delaware County Sheriff’s Office, the party’s host, Skylar Gray, told authorities the party “got out of control” and she did not know where all of the people in attendance came from.
In the wake of the party, at least four Delaware County deputies and two Craig County deputies reportedly remained on the scene until 7 a.m., calling parents to pick up “a large number of the youngsters and finding sources of safe transportation for others.”
Gray, 19, was charged with three misdemeanors — permitting invitees under 21 to possess/consume alcohol or CDA, contributing to the delinquency of a minor, and obstructing an officer.
At least one other 19-year-old was arrested at the scene for public intoxication, while seven others were issued summons for crimes including public intoxication, possession of marijuana, minor in possession and minor in consumption.
On Sept. 10, Gray entered a no-contest plea, and received a one year deferred sentence on each of the first two counts, to run concurrently, and a one-year deferred sentence on the third count. She was also given a total of $1,105 in fines, costs and restitution.
Sources of Alcohol
Hinson and others believe underage students are getting their alcohol from a variety of sources including family members, elder peers and even random people on the street.
Hinson said many students within today’s culture do not simply drink, but rather “binge drink” until they are drunk.
She said an increase in accidents throughout the Grand Lake region, including the August accident in which killed Brandon Abel, and the reports of parties like Grove Tuesday, indicate how prevalent underage drinking is in northeast Oklahoma.
“We know parties are happening,” Hinson said. “We see the level of tragedy.
“What will it take for there to be a change? We’ve had people die, and still there is no change. So what do we have to do?”
Starting With Teens
Through Grand Nation Coalition, also known as GaDuGi, Hinson and others are preparing to survey sixth to 10th graders within Grove, Jay, Afton and Ketchum about their usage of alcohol.
She also plans to include questions on the survey to help determine students perception of harm, perception of risk, the age of onset for the use of alcohol and the amount of alcohol use within the past 30 day period.
She hopes the information from the study, which should be available to the participating school districts by Christmas, will help both school officials and community members, with the data needed to begin to effect positive change.
Hinson hopes community leaders within Grove and other locations throughout the Grand Lake region, will step forward to help find ways to keep underage students from turning to alcohol use.
Kennedy also hopes the information gleaned from the surveys will help school officials and others find a way to help students who may be using alcohol in a self-medicating manner.
Educating Shop Owners
Preliminary results of a month long study, conducted within the 14 county area of the Cherokee Nation, indicate three out of four retailers within the survey area sell to individuals who appear underage.
According to Douthitt, during a 10-month period, teams of two youths — who were both at least 21 but looked like they were younger — attempted to purchase alcohol from commercial outlets within the Cherokee Nation without showing identification.
Douthitt said the teams went to every off-premise alcohol retail outlet within a 20-minute drive from the survey’s center, at least once a month during the study.
A total of 997 purchase attempts were made. Douthitt said the preliminary data within the study indicates that males and younger clerks were more likely to sell alcohol to younger buyers — especially the young women used for the research project.
Hinson, who has participated in similar compliance, checks in the past with ROCMND Area Youth Services said those checks often-found retailers did not sell to males who appeared to be underage.
Recently, members of Grand Nation have formed an action team, designed to do educational compliance checks at businesses, which sell alcohol throughout the Grand Lake region.
Hinson said she hopes action team will not only educate retailers, work to develop community standards which help prevent the sale of alcohol to underage students.
Ultimately, Douthitt and Hinson said education is the thing which will stop underage drinking.
“We need to focus on changing adult behaviors toward the accessibility of alcohol,” Hinson said. “We have to change the community norms.”