Alcohol a Bigger Threat to U.S. Youth Than Drugs

Yet public attention and funding focuses on preventing drug abuse, experts say

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THURSDAY, June 29, 2006 (HealthDay News) -- Alcohol abuse by minors results in almost 3,200 deaths a year -- four times more than deaths due to all illegal drug use combined, a new study finds.

Underage drinking also costs the United States $62 billion each year, the researchers found.

Despite these numbers, policymakers remain focused on the impact and prevention of drug use in minors, rather than alcohol, the study's authors said. The budget for anti-drug use by America's youth is nearly 25 times that of public funds earmarked for the prevention of alcohol use.

"Alcohol-related traffic crashes, violence, teen pregnancies, STDs, burns, drownings, alcohol poisoning, property damage and other risks take a human and economic toll that's much greater than illegal drugs. Yet, we spend so much more on youth drug abuse," study author Ted Miller, director of the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation (PIRE), said in a prepared statement.

Miller's team at the PIRE Public Services Research Institute in Calverton, Md., found that a large number of minors are drinking great quantities of alcohol. In fact, the study showed that underage youth consume at least 16 percent of all alcohol sold in the United States, a number the researchers called conservative.

The costs of underage drinking come from a variety of sources, with expenses linked to traffic accidents alone totaling roughly $13.7 billion per year.

"Drinks in bars, drinks in cars, drinks stolen form Mom's liquor cabinet: The average harm from a kid's illegal drink is $3," said Miller. "That's far more than the 85-cent price tag those drinks carry. It dwarfs the 10 cents in taxes we collect or the 40 cents in profit the alcohol industry reaps," he said.

Miller said poor legal enforcement is a major factor in the underage drinking epidemic, and that stricter regulations and inspections of institutions where alcohol is sold would cut the amount of alcohol getting into minors' hands. Improvements in identification and age-verification, driving curfews, zero-tolerance laws and regulations placing liability on parents who allow underage drinking in their home would also help control the problem, he said.

The study is published in the July issue of Journal of Studies on Alcohol.

More information

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has more information on underage drinking.

SOURCE: Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation, news release, June 29, 2006


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