Posted Online: Jan. 17, 2013, 8:06 pm

Guard, educators work together to address underage drinking

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By Anthony Watt awatt@qconline.com

A new Quad-Cities area group focused on the problem of underage drinking is looking for members.

Formed about 10 months ago, the Coalition for Advocating Underage Substance Elimination currently has a core membership of Rock Island County Regional Office of Education employees. At a Thursday event in Rock Island's Martin Luther King Center, those members introduced themselves to Quad-Cities residents and encouraged them to join.

Those in attendance included Rock Island Police Chief Jeff VenHuizen, Rock Island County Sheriff Jeff Boyd, Rock Island-Milan School Superintendent Mike Oberhaus, state officials and local members of the medical field and church groups.

"I'm here because I want to do something here to make a difference," said CAUSE member Clayton Naylor of the ROE. "My hope is that we can, as a group, make a difference."

The coalition is compiling data on underage drinking, how youth acquire and use alcohol, Mr. Naylor said. Most data is drawn from schools and police reports, with the group also collecting information from students through the Illinois Youth Survey,funded by the Illinois Department of Human Services and administered by the University of Illinois.

So far the coalition has discovered 5 percent of the Illinois' Quad-Cities' 2012 eighth-grader students were regulary drinking alcohol by the time they were 13 years old. About 11 percent of 10th-grade students had consumed alcohol by the age of 15.

Mr. Naylor said students are largely getting alcohol from friends or parents — without permission or with permission — rather than finding ways to buy it.

The CAUSE's initial outreach will include making people aware of its existence, he said. Conclusions drawn from its data will help determine the group's efforts to solve or minimize the problem of underage drinking.

Although it is still developing its methods of attack, the group is using examples from a more veteran coalition, Community Partners Against Substance Abuse based in Bureau and Putnam counties in Illinois.Community Partners' projects have included participation at fairs and parades, awareness events at schools and town meetings and a collection program for expired or unwanted medications. That last effort has brought in about 2,780 pounds of medications since it began in mid-2010, said John Munoz of the group.

"That's 2,700 pounds that's not being consumed by a 14-year-old, an 18-year-old," he said.

The CAUSE formed with the help of the Illinois National Guard, which is providing advice on organization, recruitment and information collection, said Sgt. 1st Class Steven Starks.

The Guard is providing the same kind of help to 20 other similar coalitions in the state.So far, it has used local donations to operate, but plans to pursue federal grants to continue and expand its operations, Mr. Naylor said.

Members of The CAUSE plan to set up a website and distribute information about the group. People wishing to learn more about the coalition can call (309) 736-1111.