McAlester News-Capital, McAlester, OK

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March 11, 2013

ABLE Commission announces plans to crack down on underage drinking

McALESTER — The Oklahoma Alcoholic Beverage Laws Enforcement (ABLE) Commission recently announced its plans to crack down on underage drinking.

“With spring break, prom and graduation season ahead, the ABLE Commission is going beyond licensed establishments to reduce Underage Drinking,” according to an ABLE press release.

State of Oklahoma ABLE Commission Special Agent-In-Charge Joe D. Daniels said this is the time of year for spring break, prom and graduation. “Every year around this time we have some well-meaning adults who provide locations for minors to consume alcohol with the intentions of protecting them,” Daniels said. “They have good intentions to keep kids off the road and give them a safe place to consume — but this isn’t safe and isn’t legal.”

Erik Smoot is an ABLE agent in charge of a program called “Too Much to Lose,” which focuses on alcohol awareness and enforcement. Smoot said, “People think of us all the time as being in the bars and restaurants. But we also go out and break up underage drinking parties.”

According to ABLE, underage drinking cost the State of Oklahoma $831 million dollars in 2010.  Tragic health, social and economic problems result from the use of alcohol by youth.

“Right now Oklahoma is the worst state in the nation — ranked 51st — for DUI offense per capita,” Smoot said. “We know the majority of kids who drink say they do so at their homes or a friends home. We respond to these parties differently than other law enforcement agencies — we will write a citation and we will also contact everyone’s parents to come pick them up. We are going to hold people responsible.”

Daniels explained Oklahoma’s social host law — also known as Cody’s Law.

The law was named after Cody Greenhaw, Daniels explained. “Cody went to a party at age 16 and he was allowed to consume alcohol. The host of the party did not provide the alcohol, but did turn a blind eye tot he kids who were consuming it,” Daniels said.

“Cody died at the party of alcohol and drug overdose.” Daniels said Cody Greenhaw’s parents, Sareva and Mark Greenhaw, discovered there was no law making it illegal for someone to allow this to occur in their home. The Greenhaws started a campaign and in 2006, the first version of Cody’s Law was passed, Daniels said.

“After multiple attempts, changes were made to the law in 2011, which now includes low-point beer and misdemeanor charges for first time occurrences,” Daniels said.

Smoot said, “In Oklahoma we have a social host law — which states if you provide a place where minors are able to use alcohol, beer or drugs, it is a crime. The first time it’s a misdemeanor and the third conviction is a felony.” Smoot also said if there is serious injury or death, the charge will automatically be a felony charge even if it is a first offense.

“I’ve been doing this for over 20 years,” Daniels said. “On Sept. 11 (2001), almost 3,000 people died because of a terrible terrorist attack on this country. Today we are still fighting in wars because of that.

“In the United States annually, there are 24,000 deaths for alcohol related causes. We have been at war for 10 years because of 3,000 lives lost. We’re losing 24,000 every year because of alcohol. We need to be at war.”

The ABLE Commission says underage drinking is a causal factor in a host of serious problems, including homicide, suicide, traumatic injury, drowning, burns, violent and property crime, high risk sex, fetal alcohol syndrome, alcohol poisoning and need for treatment for alcohol abuse and dependence.

In 2009, underage customers consumed 20.4 percent of all alcohol sold in Oklahoma, totaling $250 million in sales (in 2010 dollars), according to ABLE. The Oklahoma ABLE Commission has vowed to go beyond licensed establishments to ensure it is doing its part to reduce underage drinking. These enforcement efforts will include fake ID enforcement, party patrols, enforcing social host laws and training more police officers on how to conduct these types of investigations, according to ABLE.

Stephanie Peters, the regional prevention coordinator director for Neighbors Building Neighborhoods, said recent research indicates Pittsburg County is “at risk.”

“When the State of Oklahoma reviewed the data regarding substance abuse, Pittsburg County showed high signs of trends leading towards problems with underage drinking,” Peters said. “Pittsburg County was chosen as a priority county with a focus of underage drinking for our block grant.”

ABLE agents follow up on fatal incidents which involve youth and alcohol to determine if crimes were committed regarding youth access to alcohol or social host violations. “This enforcement will begin immediately and will go through the graduation season,” according to ABLE.

To report underage drinking parties anonymously, contact the Oklahoma ABLE Commission at www.able.ok.gov or call 866-894-3517.

Contact Rachel Petersen at rpetersen@mcalesternews.com.

For more on this story, see the print or electronic editions of the McAlester News-Capital. Click here for print edition home delivery or click here to see the Smart Edition for your computer, tablet, e-reader or smart phone.

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