New Deschutes group targets binge, underage drinking

Deschutes County has high rate of youth alcohol use

POSTED: 7:04 PM PDT August 13, 2013    UPDATED: 8:59 AM PDT August 14, 2013 
BEND, Ore. -

"Meth, heroin, weed, those were probably the three major ones."

Former Crook County High School student Tad Attrell, a Bend resident now, said Tuesday his drug addiction all started with alcohol at age 15.

"First it was a party thing, then after a while, the parties started being my life," the  24-year-old recovering addict said/

And in Central Oregon, Attrell is not alone.

"We do see with youth data, drinking excessively --,those behaviors are increasing," said Deschutes County Health Department official Julie Spackman.

Oregon ranks in the top 10 states for underage drinking rates.

In Deschutes County, the numbers are higher.

Central Oregon Teen Challenge Executive Director Terry VanAntwerp said he's not surprised, and that alcohol is found around every corner in Bend.

"The teens I've talked to have told me they live in an area where people come to play and party," VanAntwerp said. "It's part of the atmosphere. It's a natural tendency for kids to fall into that mode."

A 2012 study shows 32 percent of 11th graders surveyed in Deschutes County reported they were high or drunk in school within the past 12 months.

Statewide, that number is 19 percent.

Deschutes County Health is taking action through the Shared Future Coalition --a new organization fighting underage and binge drinking.

The group is getting more than $500,000 from a state grant over the next three years.

Spackman is the coalition coordinator, and she says the county's youth drinking problem goes back further than the surge of microbreweries and Bend's beer culture.

"The social ability to get alcohol and our community norms were the places we really needed to take action to see some long-term results," Spackman said.

Through a Website, social media, videos and public service announcements, Spackman said they want to raise awareness of underage drinking  and spur dialogue in the community

"When young people start drinking under the age of 15, it can increase their likelihood of alcohol dependency by five times," Spackman said.

Spackman said the organization is hoping to reach youth between 18 and 25 -- an age group she says is under-targeted in alcohol education campaigns.

Spackman said the group hopes to eventually reduce the numbers of youth who drink, closing the gateway that all too often leads to other dependencies.

"You start with some healthy choices in your younger years, and you make that a habit, and it can really change the trajectory," Spackman said.

To learn more about the Shared Future Coalition, visit www.sharedfuturecoalition.org.