Vermont Gets National Recognition For Reducing Underage Drinking

For Immediate Release: November 20, 2002

News Media Contact: Linda Dorey
Vermont Department of Health

BURLINGTON—The Vermont Department of Health has received a National Recognition Award from the Center for Enforcing Underage Drinking Laws “for innovation and perseverance in reducing underage drinking.” The Center is funded by the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.

“This award recognizes the success of Vermont’s community-based approach to reducing underage drinking,” said Tom Perras, director of Alcohol and Drug Abuse Programs at the Vermont Department of Health. “By combining prevention, enforcement and treatment efforts, community START teams have done a terrific job addressing this problem.”

START [Stop Teen Alcohol Risk Team] was originally conceived in the 1990s as a response to a rash of alcohol-related teen deaths on Vermont highways. Local law enforcement START teams conduct proactive party patrols at “high risk” times like prom night or homecoming weekend. They also intervene in response to tips about teen drinking parties.

Beginning in 1998 with a grant from the Department of Justice, START became a statewide effort. There are now 14 regional START groups and a statewide START task force. The Vermont League of Cities and Towns coordinates the local groups, whose membership includes law enforcement agencies, state’s attorneys, diversion programs, treatment providers, substance abuse prevention coalitions, youth and others interested in reducing underage drinking.

START’s collaborative enforcement approach makes the most of limited resources and has been instrumental in changing underage drinking in Vermont. Enforcement has doubled and there has been a 10 percent drop in teen alcohol use. According to the 2001 Vermont Youth Risk Behavior Survey, 43 percent of students drank alcohol (during the past 30 days), compared to 46 percent of students in 1999, 50 percent in 1997 and 53 percent in 1995.

In 1999, the Legislature passed a law decriminalizing the first count of possession by a minor. This move allows authorities options that include screening youth for alcohol abuse, requiring treatment, diversion programs, fines or loss of driver’s license—considered by many teens to be their most precious privilege. In addition, the public spotlight on underage drinking has led to increased penalties for adults who provide alcohol to minors and increased awareness of the consequences of hosting youth drinking.

According to Perras, the success of the program lies in shared ownership of the problem and the commitment to changing the community norms that are endangering young people.