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Group considers anonymous tip line to report underage drinking

Field parties, creek parties and house parties serving alcohol to underage drinkers are common throughout the country, but one organization in the area is making a plan to curtail the activities in Escambia County.

Meg Maynor, prevention coordinator with Southwest Alabama Mental Health, said preventing underage drinking is a focus of her job and one she is anxious to put into action.

“Our goal is implement a 24-hour tip line that allows the community to make anonymous calls about these types of gatherings,” Maynor said. “We hope that establishing a tip line will make teens afraid to have these kinds of parties.”

Maynor, along with SWAMH Prevention Consultant Darlu Nall, spoke with law enforcement officials, school, church and community leaders during a prevention planning meeting last week to get input concerning establishing a tip line.

“We want to form a coalition to support our goal of stopping underage drinking,” Maynor said. “We want to get everything in order to get the ball rolling on this project.”

Nall said the plan for establishing the anonymous tip line has been one that has been revised several times in order to meet the needs and expectations of the community.

“We have submitted five plans on establishing some prevention means,” Nall said. “This (tip line) plan was approved by the department and we are moving forward.”

Nall said the use of alcohol by young adults and teens is widespread and efforts to curtail underage drinking must be made.

“Alcohol is the most used substance out there among teens,” Nall said. “It is easy to get in many cases. The more we can limit the availability, the better things will be.”

Nall said some adults believe that allowing young adults to drink in the home is acceptable, however, she said that idea needs to change. “We need to put an end to the perception that adults have about underage drinking,” Nall said. “Some adults have the attitude that ‘if they drink at home with me, it’s OK,’ and we need to end that perception.”

House parties, which are described as homes where adults host underage drinking, are common throughout the county, according to officials at Friday’s meeting.

“There are homes where some adults think it’s acceptable to allow alcohol to be consumed by teens and young adults,” Nall said. “It will not go away. But, if we can deter underage drinking through this tip line it will be worth it.”

The goal of SWAMH is to implement a 24-hour tip line by Sept. 30 that would allow anonymous callers to report underage alcohol use in Escambia County, Maynor said. “There are several steps that we have to take in order to get the tip line established,” Maynor said. “We want to do this properly and have everything in place by Sept. 30. Now is the right time for us to move forward with this project.”

While some at the meeting were skeptical about the effectiveness of a tip line, others said the believe it is worth the effort.

Donna Revel, attendance officer for Escambia County Schools, said the problem of underage drinking needs to be addressed — and she said the work to establish a tip line is worth the effort.

“I see children who are consuming alcohol at very young ages,” Revel said. “Alcohol is a gateway substance. There are reasons why people don’t think a tip line would work, but if a tip line can keep one or two children from drinking it’s worth every effort put into it.”

Nall agreed. “I know there will be people that make calls to the line that may be just a joke or a prank,” she said. “When those calls are responded to by law enforcement, I’m not sure those people will think it’s much of a joke. I believe that the pros of establishing this tip line far outweigh the cons. We need to make steps in getting underage drinking under control and this is a good start.”

Candace Harden, executive director for SWAMH, said a coalition in Escambia County is something she is pleased to see in the plans.

“Once you get a coalition established it takes on a life of its own,” Harden said. “We see that Escambia County’s residents want to come together and make things happen. That‘s why we chose to start this here.”

For information or to present ideas to SWAMH officials concerning the 24-hour anonymous tip line, contact Maynor or Nall at 867-3242 or 809-2479.