Before the House Judiciary Committee
February 1, 2014
Chairman Butler, Vice Chair Pelanda, Ranking Minority Member Stinziano and members of the House Judiciary Committee, thank you for allowing me to testify today in support of House Bill 392 that would provide persons under the age of 21 with a qualified immunity for underage alcohol possession or consumption should law enforcement become aware of offenses because the individual sought medical or law enforcement assistance to help another individual.
My name is Marcie Seidel. I am the executive director of Drug Free Action Alliance a statewide certified prevention agency that has been in existence for more than 25 years. The mission of the agency is to lead the way in promoting healthy lives through the prevention of substance abuse and its related problems.
Since its inception, Drug Free Action Alliance has had a major focus on youth substance abuse prevention. Research tells us that the human brain continues to develop until one reaches their mid-twenties. When alcohol and other psychoactive drugs are used prior to the full maturation of the brain, problems with learning and cognitive development can occur. The substance interferes with the developing neuron connectivity affecting many things including memory, judgment and emotionality. Additionally, if a person starts drinking before the age of 15, they are four times more likely to meet the criteria of alcohol dependence at some point in their lives.
Each year, approximately 5,000 young people under the age of 21 die as a result of underage drinking; this includes about 1,900 deaths from motor vehicle crashes, 1,600 as a result of homicides, 300 from suicide, as well as hundreds from other injuries such as falls, burns, drownings, and alcohol poisonings.
Young people drink less often than adults, but when they do drink, they drink more than adults, averaging about 5 drinks per a single 2 hour occasion. This is called binge drinking; however, many consume extreme amounts of up to 12 drinks per occasion.
Our goal as a society must be to significantly reduce underage drinking to help keep our youth safe and healthy. Here is how I think this legislation can move us to that end:
- First, there are many tools in the prevention toolbox, and the judiciary tool is just one. This legislation can potentially save lives. Whether a young person is experiencing alcohol poisoning or is involved in a life-threatening injury or situation, freeing a young person from the threat of legal complications may encourage them to seek the medical or law enforcement assistance needed. This can take away barriers to responding quickly and appropriately to an emergency, therefore, perhaps saving a life.
- Second, there is a potential for a meaningful intervention that could challenge the youth’s drinking behavior. Young people are risk takers and feel invincible. Once they start using alcohol, it is difficult to change that behavior. But when a serious, even life-threatening situation occurs, an intervention right in the middle of that crisis could capture their attention in a very powerful way and open the door to behavior change.
- Third, this legislation can become the impetus to begin important information and education about the dangers of adolescent alcohol consumption, high-risk drinking and the related consequences. Alcohol is drug of choice for adolescents and more young people die from alcohol-related consequences than all other drugs combined. Our society embraces alcohol consumption in every aspect of our culture. It is important to discuss the impacts on our youth’s health and well-being and begin to change the drinking culture of our youth.
Thank you for allowing me to testify today in support of House Bill 392. I would be happy to answer any questions you may have.