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Groups hope statewide underage drinking prevention program helps educate adults, teens

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GREENSBORO, N.C. -- Groups trying to keep alcohol away from minors are pleased with news that the Alcohol Beverage Control commission will dedicate several million dollars over the next few years towards underage drinking prevention.

The program is still being developed but is supposed to launch this fall. It’s seen as a way to educate parents and teenagers on the dangers of drinking through a statewide media campaign and action plan.

"By them placing more emphasis on that it's a great opportunity for us as a community to really say that underage drinking is not acceptable — it’s unhealthy and has long term consequences," said Angel Maxwell, who is director of prevention services with Alcohol and Drug Services of Greensboro.

Maxwell said current programs to combat underage drinking have been successful but there are still about 30 percent of teens able to get alcohol regularly and told researchers they'd consumed alcohol in the last 30 days.

Many of those polled said their first drink came around age 13. Maxwell said that's why it's important to get the message to adults about the dangers of underage drinking.

The most obvious danger is drunk driving but Maxwell said there are also reports of sexual assault, vandalism and burglaries that are tied to underage drinking. Depression and traumatic brain injuries from falls while intoxicated are also concerns.

Guilford County Schools has tried to reinforce the message by using high school students as mentors for middle school students when it comes to alcohol prevention.

Vernice Thomas said high schoolers lead SMART groups -- which stands for student mentoring awareness resource teams -- that lead middle schoolers through the dangers of alcohol and other addictive substances like tobacco. Those groups meet at least once a month.

"Peers tend to listen to one another," said Thomas. "We talk about peer influence -- it’s real."

ABC leaders believe an influence at home can be just as important though. They're hoping to erase the notion that drinking at home or at the home of friends is acceptable.

"No one single thing will impact every student the same way," said Thomas. "We have to use every technique, every idea-- whatever we can do to get young people to understand alcohol kills."