ASHLAND, Ky. - Youth advocates in eastern Kentucky have turned their attention to the growing problem of underage drinking.
Shelly Steiner, a certified prevention specialist with Pathways Regional Prevention Center, told The Independent that the number of youths consuming alcohol is on the increase.
"We're seeing our underage drinking numbers rise tremendously," Steiner said, adding that the response has been a focus on alcohol prevention.
"Usually with the gateway drugs, tobacco is first then alcohol and then marijuana," Steiner said. "In two of our 10 counties, alcohol has overridden tobacco as No. 1 in usage.
"For the first time, alcohol is surpassing tobacco use among youth."
A study last year by the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation found that youth consumed 16.5 percent of alcohol sold in Kentucky, making it No. 8 in the U.S. for the amount of underage drinking.
Steiner says efforts have been turned toward alcohol prevention programs to fight the trend.
For example, Pathways hosted area high schools for a youth alcohol conference at Morehead State University in October in which youth learned not only about the effects of underage drinking, but how to influence their peers using different means including social media. They sent to the conference with video or audio public service announcements to try to dissuade peers from drinking.
"It was a great success," Steiner said. "The kids loved it. They were so excited to go back (to school). They really picked up the ball and are starting to do some things in their schools."
Now, those high school students are working on alcohol prevention presentations that will be made to elementary school students.
Becky Walker, the coordinator of the youth service center at East Carter middle and high schools, said she was happy with the turnout at the conference.
"I'm just pleased to see students who are dedicated, really care about their classmates and are devoted to being good role models, but also want to see their classmates succeed and not fall into that rut of using drugs and alcohol," Walker said. "It helps reemphasize the point that there is hope for our teenagers and our future because we have students like these that are very passionate about walking the walk and talking the talk. They pledge to do it themselves, that they won't be involved in those things and they prove it."
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