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Coalition urges high schoolers to play it safe for year-end gigs; Official: Activities may entice alcohol, drug use

By Staff | May 22, 2008

As the end of the school year approaches, high school students across Lee County are preparing for graduation and prom, activities that could increase the likelihood of alcohol and drug abuse by teens.

While students may want to celebrate graduation or the close of the school year, the Coalition for a Drug Free Southwest Florida has designated May as “Think Before You Drink” month.

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, motor vehicle crashes are the number one cause of death among young adults aged 15 to 20.

Although education and awareness programs have reduced the amount of teen alcohol-related motor vehicle crashes, declining 34 percent in the last 10 years, the total still remains high.

The coalition is working to further lower these sobering statistics by asking residents of Southwest Florida to wear red on May 30. The campaign is called “Wear Red Because Someone Loves You,” and will bring awareness to the importance of keeping teens safe.

Some schools in Lee County are also holding Project Graduation parties, which are alcohol-free gatherings for students. According to the coalition, the following schools in Cape Coral are holding Project Graduation parties: Cape Coral High, Mariner High and Ida S. Baker High.

Cape High will host its party on Friday from 6-11 p.m. at the school’s pool; Ida S. Baker High will host its party June 1 from 11 p.m.-5 a.m. at the Cape Coral Yacht Club; and Mariner High will host its party May 31 from 11 p.m.-4 a.m. at the Cape Coral Yacht Club.

“What we are looking at on May 30 is that we are aware that there will be a lot of graduation parties, and we want to remind parents and teens that they need to be careful and not to drink no matter how tempting it is,” said Keral Kronseder-Vogt, executive director of the coalition.

She explained that one growing concern for the coalition is the damaging neurological effects that alcohol and drugs have on a developing teen brain.

“What we found out in the last five years is that there can be severe and permanent damage to the adolescent brain,” said Kronseder-Vogt. “We used to think the brain was mature by 15, but we found out that it is not really mature until 25.”

While it may be considered a right of passage for high school and college students to drink, research done in the last five years indicates that drinking at a young age can damage parts of the brain that have not reached full development — specifically, the part of the brain associated with decision-making and impulse control.

“Aside from that is when teens drink you have increases in depression, suicide, death by car accidents and death because of mixing drugs and alcohol,” said Kronseder-Vogt.

Deborah Comella, public relations director with the coalition, pointed out that some parents host parties for their children at home, believing that it is safer for the teens to consume alcohol under parental supervision.

“If the schools can’t do the safe graduation parties, the parents need to be more vigilant. Kids are going to go out,” said Comella.

According to the coalition, two men were arrested in Cape Coral last weekend for reportedly holding open house parties with alcohol and drugs for minors. The concern is that more parents will allow these types of parties throughout the end of the school year.

“We get into the area where parents say it is OK for them to let us drink at the house so they can keep on eye on them,” said Comella. “If they aren’t going somewhere where alcohol is not being served, this is our opportunity to invite parents to step into that void.”

For more information on the damaging effects of drugs and alcohol on teenagers, visit the Web site of “Parents. The Anti-Drug” at: theantidrug.com.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration recommends that parents talk to their children and tell them not to get into a motor vehicle with someone who has been drinking or using drugs. They should inform children that, as a parent, they are always available to give teens a safe ride home.

Most importantly, if parents do host a party, do not serve alcohol or allow drug use.