By Steven Carter, Patrick ONeill
The (Portland) Oregonian
PORTLAND In a rare public appearance to promote a cause,
Mary Oberst, Oregon's first lady, kicked off a statewide campaign
Tuesday against teen drinking.
Oberst told 150 students at Sellwood Middle School in Southeast
Portland that "alcohol is the main factor leading to
death and disability among people your age."
She also pointed out: "A lot of research says that if
you drink, you're going to get poor grades."
The campaign was launched by Oregon Partnership, aided by
Safeway Stores and Boise company. Students at Sellwood and
23 other Oregon schools got colorful plastic arm bracelets
with facts and slogans about the dangers of alcohol.
Oberst encouraged students to use the bracelets to start
a conversation with their parents about underage drinking.
"Show your parents what you got at school today, and
then talk about it with them," she said.
Oberst, a lawyer, asked students to give her reasons why
drinking is a bad idea.
It can harm your brain, one girl said. It can kill you if
you drink and drive, said another.
Seventh-grader Andy McIntyre, 12, had another reason: "It
makes your breath stink."
"That's a good one," Oberst said.
The wife of Gov. Ted Kulongoski prefers to stay in the background
but said she makes exceptions for causes she thinks are crucial.
"The message here is so important that I wanted to get
involved," she said.
Jeff Ruscoe prevention coordinator with the Oregon Department
of Human Services, said a 2002 state survey the latest
available revealed that 25 percent of Oregon eighth-graders
said they had had an alcoholic drink in the month before the
survey, compared with 19.7 percent nationwide.
Ruscoe said the percentages vary widely year to year but,
generally, underage drinking is declining in Oregon.
"The overall trend is that we're coming down," he
said. "But we still hit bumps every once in a while."
Tuesday's campaign kickoff was part of a three-pronged effort
to put a lid on underage drinking: improving communication
between children and their parents; using underage decoys
to find merchants who sell alcohol to minors; and building
"controlled party dispersal" programs.
Party dispersal programs are aimed at capturing as many underage
drinkers as possible during law-enforcement raids on parties
in which youngsters consume alcohol, he said.
Part of Ruscoe's $360,000 annual budget goes to help local
law enforcement agencies set up perimeters around such parties
to prevent underage drinkers from scattering, he said.
Law officers "go in and shut down a party in a controlled
manner, call the parents to come get the kids and cite them
(the teens) on the spot," he said.
Ruscoe said one aim of the campaign is to urge parents to
persuade their underage children not to drink alcohol at all.
Some parents let their children drink at home, hoping to provide
them with a safe place to consume alcohol. But Ruscoe says
this is a well-intentioned but misguided practice.
"Parents should talk to their kids about not drinking
instead of how to drink safely," he said.
He acknowledged that the message is somewhat ambiguous because
the law permits underage children to drink at home as long
as their parents or guardians permit. Children who consume
alcohol can't leave the home, he said, because that would
violate laws against minors possessing alcohol.