An alarming 41 percent of students in public high schools in the CNMI were found involved in underage drinking, based on the records of the Public School System.
In a presentation to PSS Parents' Summit yesterday, it was disclosed that the survey result is the highest recorded on students who consumed alcohol in the last 30 days prior to the actual survey conducted in 2011. PSS' survey is conducted every two years and the 2011 result was determined the highest among the five surveys conducted among high school respondents.
In 2003, PSS determined that there were only 31 percent of high school students who consumed alcohol in the 30 days prior to the survey. Two years later in 2007, the figure went down to 27 percent until it became 25.5 percent in the 2005 survey. PSS saw the continuous progress in the number of minor students who consumed alcohol when it recorded another decline in 2009 survey with only 24 percent.
But for 2011, the rate drastically increased to 41 percent. There were 2,569 students who participated from five public high schools with 78 percent response rate from Grades 9-12.
Based on the PSS record, 24.5 percent of students who surveyed in 2011 indicated that their first drink of alcohol other than a few sips was before the age of 13.
The percentage of students who had at least one drink of alcohol or more in the past 30 days before the survey indicated the following results: 49 percent in 2003; 43.6 percent in 2005; 41.1 percent in 2007; 38.8 percent in 2009; and 41.4 percent in 2011.
According to James Arriola, evaluator of CHC's Project Brabu, alcohol is impacting the youths of the CNMI. Compared to the U.S. statistics of students who currently consume alcohol, he revealed that the CNMI's figure of 40 percent is higher than the rate in the U.S. with only 25 percent.
The CNMI is also higher than U.S. in terms of binge drinking among youths with 25 percent compared to U.S. rate of only 15 percent. Binge drinking is drinking alcoholic beverages with the primary intention of becoming heavily intoxicated.
Also disclosed to the parents yesterday was the fact that the drinking and driving rate in the Commonwealth is higher at 15 percent compared with U.S. with only 10 percent.
Arriola cited major consequences of alcohol among youths. He revealed that underage drinking results in poor school performance, violent crimes, driving or riding under the influence of alcohol, and unintentional injuries. Consuming alcohol among minors also caused physical effects on the body and death.
'Parents can be penalized, too'
According to Public Health and Department Public Safety officials, underage drinking and its consequences can be eradicated through collaboration and active involvement of the agencies, the community, and parents.
DPS officer Jose Saures, in his presentation about the enforcement of underage drinking laws, pointed out that under Public Law 17-83 stricter penalties were assigned to establishments who will violate the law which include a $5,000 fine and up to five years imprisonment term if found violating the law for third time.
Saures added that parents can also be penalized for providing alcohol to minors and could be fine $1,000 and one year prison term.
According to DPS' Vincent Camacho, in December last year, there were seven establishments which sold alcohol to minors.