Alcohol is a popular drug for Sag Harbor teenagers—the results of the most recent New York State Youth Development survey says they drink more than their peers in Suffolk County as a whole—but it is not too late for the community to come together to improve the sobering statistics, according to a presentation given to district parents last week.
Kymberly Laube, the executive director of Human Understanding & Growth Inc., and Pamela Mizzi, the director of the Suffolk County Prevention Resource Center, presented the results of the survey, taken during the 2010-2011 school year, at a well-attended meeting at Pierson Middle/High School hosted by the Sag Harbor Community Coalition, a group that formed about six months ago with the aim of devising ways to curb high-risk behaviors among district students.
The survey, Ms. Mizzi said, is validated, reliable and “used all over.” One built-in validity check, she explained, was that in addition to questions about 15 different substances, the survey also includes a test question about a fake drug. If students mark that they used that “drug,” their surveys are not counted.
The survey, which was produced by International Survey Associates/Pride Surveys under a contract with the New York State Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services, tallied responses from 339 Pierson students in grades seven through 12.
About 4.9 percent of seventh-graders said they drank alcohol in the past 30 days at the time of the survey, as compared to 3.4 percent countywide, according to the results. By eighth-grade, 11.5 percent of Pierson students are drinking, while 9.8 percent of their peers in the county are. Sag Harbor remains higher than the county all the way through 12th grade, when 76.9 percent of them are drinking, as compared to 56.7 percent in the county.
“On the East End, our kids do tend to drink a little bit more than others,” Ms. Laube said, pointing to the flourishing local wine industry, particularly on the North Fork, and what she called the high “alcohol density,” or number of liquor stores in a given area, as well as the popularly of partying on the beach, not enough enrichment programs for youth and a perceived lack of enforcement of the Social Host Law, which prohibits anyone older than 18 years old from knowingly allowing anyone under 21 to consume alcohol.
One of the biggest mistakes adults make when it comes to teaching their children about alcohol and drug use, she said, is that “we make it seem like a guy in a hood in a dark alley” who jumps out and pours alcohol down others’ throats. As a result, kids don’t realize early on that the drug user often is the “guy from Cub Scouts or Little League.”
She and Ms. Mizzi urged the audience, which included several School Board members as well as Village Police Chief Tom Fabiano, to not lose their voice when it comes to discouraging their children from underage drinking.
The presenters encouraged parents to stop giving wine as gifts, to talk more with their children about drinking, to never serve other people’s children alcohol and to wait up for their children when they come home at night and give them a kiss.
They also shared a phone number, 1-866-UNDER21, that they said anonymously dispatches to Albany, which then contacts the local police department and can be used to report underage drinking parties, for example.
The roughly hour-long presentation did not include a public comment portion, but attendees afterward agreed they need to work together to address the issue of underage drinking.
Dr. Lisa Scheffer, a co-chairwoman of the coalition and the district’s director of pupil personnel services, acknowledged there has been a “steady increase” in house parties involving alcohol in Sag Harbor recently.
“This whole Nancy Reagan, ‘Just say no to drugs’ thing doesn’t work. I think about how many beer commercials my son has seen at 7 a.m. on SportsCenter,” said Benito Vila, a parent of two Pierson High School students. “I came to be a part of the solution. I don’t have a solution, but let’s see what we can do.”