State should consider use of breathalyzers

October 22
October 22, 2007
Richard Weaver
October 24, 2007

Editor’s Note: The following editorial originally appeared in the Daily Advertiser (Lafayette).

USA Today reports that high schools and colleges around the country are testing students for alcohol at events such as dances and football games. Thousands of schools, according to the report, are purchasing breathalyzers. High school orders for the testing devices have increased by 120 percent in each of the past four years, according to the president of KHN Solutions, which markets breathalyzers.

Last year, the Century Council of Washington, D.C., launched a national campaign aimed at ending drunk driving and underage drinking. Probably the most troubling revelation of the campaign is that a number of parents and family provide alcohol for underage drinkers. The research shows 65 percent of teens get their booze from relatives.

Research at LSU after a student death from binge drinking showed that some parents help their children sneak liquor into dorms, often by the case.

A state Department of Health study three years ago showed almost one-third of the state’s high school seniors have engaged in binge drinking. Alcohol use is accepted at fairs, festivals, sporting events and other activities involving children and teenagers.

Drinking parties sponsored by parents reflect perhaps this area’s greatest contributor to underage drinking and driving and the tragedy that so often ensues. In an Advertiser study a few years ago, we talked with Dr. David Rees, a general psychiatrist who at one time headed a leading alcohol and drug abuse clinic. He called drinking the norm for ninth- and 10th-graders.

“My proof is the number of kids I’ve seen come through that door for treatment,” he said. “There’s a blind admiration for alcohol in Acadiana – an acceptance of it as a necessary part of a good time. For proof, walk around at one of the many festivals throughout the area. Nine times out of 10, revelers are holding a drink in their hand.”

The responsibility for our above-average level of underage drinking falls on all of us – lawmakers, law-enforcement officers, the courts, all those who see a festival or other celebration as a time for carefree boozing, parents who find excuses to serve liquor to teenagers and those of us who keep quiet about all these things that need to be changed for the sake of our children.

Statistics compiled by Mothers Against Drunk Driving show alcohol use among those under 21 is the leading drug problem in the United States. Every day, 5,400 young people under 16 take their first drink of alcohol. More than 7 million underage youth, ages 12 to 20, report binge drinking. Every day, three teens die from drinking and driving.

Louisiana should evaluate the effectiveness of breathalyzers being used at schools around the country. They are apparently an effective weapon in the battle against underage drinking.