Adolescent alcohol abuse is a growing problem. Studies tell us that every month, more than four million minors drink alcohol. Nationally, 90% of high school seniors use alcohol. Juvenile tobacco use is also at unacceptable levels. Nationally, 62% of all high school seniors have smoked. Smoking among eighth graders rose by 30% from 1991 to 1994.
In Oakland County, Michigan:
- 85.1% of high school seniors have used alcohol.
- 54.8% began drinking before they entered high school
- 39% of them drink to intoxication on a regular basis.
- 29.1% have either driven while drunk or ridden with a driver who was drunk, on at least one occasion during the last year.
- 68.8% of high school seniors have smoked cigarettes.
- 50.8% started smoking before they entered high school.
- 44.3% of those, smoke a minimum of one-half a pack a day.
Alcohol can create an insatiable craving, which can result in long term physical and psychological addiction. Once a person is addicted to alcohol, it takes the brain one-month for every year of addiction to stabilize and return to normal functioning.
An adolescent addicted to alcohol is more likely to be the victim of violent crime. They are more likely to have problems with employment and they are more likely to fail in school. Alcohol related car crashes are the foremost cause of death for individuals under the age of twenty-one. Intoxication is also highly correlated with homicide, suicide, and drowning, the next three leading causes of death for minors.
Smokers risk developing lung cancer at a rate that is thirteen times greater than that of nonsmokers. The younger a child starts using tobacco and/or alcohol, the more likely they are to develop problems associated with such use.
In 1997 the 52/1 District Court working with a number of private and public organizations came together to start a program intended to address the twin problems of adolescent alcohol and tobacco use. These groups included the Walled Lake Consolidated School System, South Lyon School System, the Novi Public Schools, Oakland Schools, the police departments of each community the court serves, the Oakland County Sheriff's Department, the Oakland County Prosecutors Office, Oakland Community Corrections, the American Lung Association of Michigan, Mothers Against Drunk Driving, Sequoia Center, a drug and alcohol treatment agency, the Turning Point, the Farmington Counseling Centers, Providence Park of the Providence Hospital System, the Oakland County Family Court, a division of the Oakland County Circuit Court, and the 52-1 District Court. Each group made a commitment to change or heighten services to address these problems.
Local ordinances were passed in most of the communities that allowed their police officers to issue tickets to any juvenile found in possession of alcohol or tobacco. The police agreed to ticket all minors possessing tobacco or alcohol. They also agreed to notify the area School System about each ticketed adolescent currently enrolled.
Local prosecutors agreed that juveniles 17 and older would be charged in the 52-1 District Court. They also agreed not to dismiss a case before pre-trial, and to take all cases not resolved at pre-trial to trial.
The 52-1 District Court committed to send all convicted defendants for alcohol assessment prior to sentencing and to order appropriate alcohol and tobacco treatment. The Court further agreed to notify the local School System about each enrolled adolescent ticketed. The 52-1 District Court also agreed to order these defendants to submit to routine drug and alcohol testing.
Each School Systems agreed to actively promote educational programs for all forms of chemical abuse, and to provide counseling and information to their students convicted of possessing or using alcohol or tobacco. They also agreed to cooperate with Probate and District Court personnel in the supervision of these minors.
The Turning Point, Oakland Community Corrections, and Mothers Against Drunk Driving agreed to expand their award-winning program known as the "Impact Weekend" for those adolescents convicted of minor in possession of alcohol in the 52-1 District Court. Farmington Counseling Centers agreed to start alcohol and tobacco treatment programs targeted at juveniles. All parties agreed to meet quarterly to evaluate the progress of the program.
In the past five years, 2,947 minors were arrested and required to appear in the 52-1 District Court, charged with possessing alcohol or tobacco. It is important to note that 2,544, or 86% of these adolescents committed no subsequent offense in the five years of the project. Still, the concern about minors use of alcohol and tobacco was highlighted by the fact that 65% of those rearrested were arrested on new alcohol or drug charges.
The new strategy does appear to reduce serious crime. In the year 2002:
- Only sixteen of the recidivators were charged with a felony.
- Only one of the recidivators was arrested for an assaultive misdemeanor.
- Only nine of the recidivators were arrested for economic crimes.
These preliminary results suggest the following:
- The high level of alcohol and tobacco use reported by juveniles in the Michigan Alcohol and other Drug School Survey appears to be accurate.
- Regular alcohol use is perceived by minors as acceptable, perhaps even necessary.
- Many adolescents do not believe society is earnest about preventing them from using tobacco and alcohol.
- A coordinated community-based approach with significant consequences appears to reduce or prevent ongoing adolescent alcohol or tobacco use.
- A coordinated community-based approach with significant consequences also appears to reduce the more serious crimes that can result from alcohol use.
By identifying these at risk juveniles, the program is able to provide needed intervention. The individual's path toward addiction and crime can be diverted without suffering a life filled with disappointment.