City fully joins in initiative to target underage drinking

By Philip Sayblack, Rocky Mount Telegram

Two years ago, North Carolina ABC Chairman Jim Gardner launched a statewide initiative aimed at fighting underage drinking called Talk it Out NC. Now one city in the east can say that it is the first city in the state to fully join the program.

A news conference was held in Rocky Mount Thursday to announce that the city is now the first in the state to join the initiative in full. Gardner said during the news conference that the aim of the program is to work primarily with pre-teens and their parents to address the issue of underage drinking.

“The program’s goal is to be proactive with middle school students and their parents,” he said. “In doing that, hopefully those students will be fully aware of the dangers of drinking and alcohol abuse by the time they get to college. That is when it would be too late to reach them.”

He said the process of fighting underage drinking is a three-step process beginning with educating parents about the dangers of drinking. The second step in Talk It Out NC’s process involves training employees at businesses that sell alcohol about selling and not selling alcohol. Gardner said the third and final step is enforcement. That entails getting officers out to identify and apprehend anyone that provides alcohol to anyone under the age of 21.

Gardner was just one of the public figures who spoke at Thursday’s news conference. Rocky Mount Mayor David Combs shared his thoughts on the issue along with Nash County Sheriff Keith Stone and others. Each man spoke on different parts of the issue but still echoed the others’ sentiment about the topic.

Mayor Combs said underage drinking is a problem that exists in every community. He said that even though it is there, very few people realize that it is a problem.

“A lot of us are not aware of the problem that underage drinking has become,” he said.

Nash County Sheriff Keith Stone talked about the dangers that alcohol presents in terms of leading young people to using other drugs.

“Alcohol is a gateway drug,” he said, echoing statements by Gardner about alcohol’s dangers. “Underage people have no business drinking. Keeping underage people from drinking starts at home. It takes parenting.”

Gardner finished the conference by pointing out one underage person is lost each week in North Carolina to underage drinking related incidents. He said it is the responsibility of the parents and the people to cut this rate down and keep young people safe.

“We in North Carolina have a responsibility to protect our children,” he said.