Oregon police and substance abuse prevention advocates said their city continues to have a problem with underage drinking even though the latest research indicates drinking rates among students have dropped dramatically in Lucas County since 2000.
Officials said Oregon has a higher underage drinking rate than the average of all Lucas County communities.
Tana Schiewer, executive director of the Oregon Community and Family Coalition, a nonprofit anti-drug organization that targets alcohol abuse, said that the publicity from recent fatal drunken-driving accidents in Oregon has shed light on a problem that has been apparent since 2006.
"The recent accidents have definitely brought [alcohol abuse] to the forefront of people's minds," Ms. Schiewer said. "I've had people calling our office saying they want to get involved."
A 2006 Lucas County Mental Health and Recovery Services Board youth survey indicated that more underage youths in Oregon admitted to drinking than the average of all other Lucas County communities.
William Ivoska, vice president of student services at Owens Community College, led the survey.
Mr. Ivoska said that the recovery services board conducted a survey in December and that the results will be made public in May.Although Mr. Ivoska's research indicated underage drinking has decreased dramatically since 1998, Oregon police said the issue is still very apparent.
"It's definitely an ongoing problem," said Sgt. Kelly Thibert, who used to supervise the officers who talk to local students about drug and alcohol abuse. "If I had to guess, I'd say it's kids going out and experimenting on their own, but there is an issue and we've had problems in the past where parents are having parties for kids. Whether it be at home or in hotel rooms, we've had problems with that as well."
Lt. Hank Everitt said Oregon patrol officers still commonly break up large parties where the majority of teens are intoxicated.
"There just seems to be a higher acceptance level here than other places," he said. "That's something we're trying to change."
Mrs. Schiewer's organization hosted a public meeting Jan. 31 to discuss ways the community can combat underage drinking.
"Some people who attended blamed parents hosting parties," she said. "Some said it's peer pressure and lack of law enforcement ... I think a lot of parents say, 'I drank when I was younger and I turned out OK,' but kids today are drinking harder, faster, and more often."
Mrs. Schiewer referred to binge drinking, which she defined as consuming five or more drinks in a row.
She said the binge drinking rate among youths in Oregon is not only higher than the Lucas County average, but the national average as well.
"The younger a child starts drinking, the higher a likelihood they will develop alcohol dependence," she said. "People who begin drinking before the age of 15 are four times more likely to develop alcohol dependence than those who wait until they're 21," she added. "Each additional year of delayed drinking reduces the probability of alcohol dependency by 14 percent. The longer kids hold off, the less likely they are to develop alcohol dependency as adults."
Lieutenant Everitt said the coalition and local police are taking action this year to combat underage drinking.
The coalition, using a $1,000 grant from the Ohio Department of Alcohol and Drug Addiction Services, plans to pay overtime for police so officers can conduct underage compliance checks in businesses that sell alcohol.
"We're going to do the compliance checks in the bars too," Lieutenant Everitt said.
Mr. Ivoska said Oregon has been making positive strides to reduce alcohol abuse over the last six to eight years.
"They've had consistent declines in underage consumption," he said. "Everybody in the area is making great strides and they are as well."