Children First: Tackling underage drinking and binge drinking - KOTA Territory News

Children First: Tackling underage drinking and binge drinking

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A little more than a decade ago, Jason Nelson pulled up to a fork in the road after a night out.  He had two options: turn home or turn onto Interstate 90 to search for more fun.

"If I would have thought about my situation and what I was doing, I would have stopped right there and got out," Nelson said.

But he didn't, the then college student was drunk and he turned onto the Interstate.  Not long after, Nelson hit a car near Sturgis, killing the driver.

"As I was in the drunk tank sobering up and as the reality of what I had done had set in, it was pretty much a crushing feeling," Nelson said.  "I thought my life was over."

But the family of the victim gave Nelson a second chance and he and alcohol prevention leaders are trying to do the same for others.

"You can easily be in my situation, you can easily make the wrong choices if you aren't careful," Nelson said.

Local organizations in Rapid City work to help young people be more careful but leaders say that mission is harder than ever to accomplish.

"Funding has just been cut severely in the last few years," said Linda Colhoff-Glover, a Certified Prevention Specialist with Adolescent Substance Abuse Prevention Inc. (ASAP).

So, prevention organizations realize they can't do this work alone.  In Rapid City that has meant having town-hall-style meetings.  It's an effort to bring local and state leaders, law enforcement officers, and community members together to find solutions.

"The more people you have interested in the issue, who are willing to step forward and work on the issues, yes, that is huge," Colhoff-Glover said.

It's huge because leaders say it's time to focus on changing the community as a whole rather than just the individuals affected.

"Because we know if we can change the environment, we can change more people," Colhoff-Glover said.

Some of those possible changes they've discussed include: restrictions on "happy hour" advertising, better training for beverage servers, stronger laws on social host liability, restricted sales of alcohol at public events, and an increased tax on all alcohol sales.

"Not that these strategies might be the saving grace, but every little bit helps," Colhoff-Glover said.

It helps to keep the community engaged and to prevent someone else from going down the road Jason Nelson did.

"I found my own way through peer pressure and the environment around," Nelson said.  "And the environment and peer pressure, it will get you."

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