A local coalition has partnered with the Cape Girardeau County prosecuting attorney's office to help deter underage drinking and substance abuse during prom and high school graduation season.
The Southeast Missouri Youth Substance Abuse Prevention Coalition will begin sending out letters at the end of the month that outline the dangers of underage alcohol consumption and illicit drug use. The letter cites the causal effect between drinking and poor decision-making that can lead to drunken driving and often fatal traffic accidents.
"The consequences can alter young lives forever," the letter, which is signed by assistant prosecuting attorney Angel Woodruff, says. The letters will be sent to parents of high school juniors and seniors at Cape Girardeau County's six high schools. Woodruff declined to comment on the letter, saying the focus should be on the children, not officials.
The coalition coordinated with the schools so parents will receive the letters before their child's prom, coalition project coordinator Shelly Wood said. Substance abuse is prevalent among high school students in the spring because of often unsupervised prom and graduation parties.
"We know underage drinking is a problem in this area, and adults can be a defense," Wood said.
Young people are more likely to drink alcohol or experiment with illicit drugs when unsupervised, the letter says. Parents who host parties where underage drinking or drug use are present will face criminal prosecution, according to the letter.
The letters will include "Wasted Lives," a Missouri Department of Transportation pamphlet that outlines the dangers of drunken driving and alcohol poisoning. The pamphlet encourages potential drunken drivers to call a parent, sibling, friend or taxi to get home.
Indicators of alcohol poisoning, namely seizures, vomiting, slow breathing and hypothermia, are also listed in the pamphlet.
A coalition survey conducted in 2010 reveals that 30 percent of people in Southeast Missouri between ages 12 and 20 consume alcohol. Twenty-three percent of the people who took the survey said alcohol was the easiest illicit substance to obtain.
"Underage drinking is a problem in general in this area," Wood said.
Fifteen percent of the survey's responders said marijuana was the easiest to get, while tobacco -- which in most states cannot be sold to anyone under 18 -- topped the list at 30 percent. Alabama, Alaska, New Jersey and Utah require people to be 19 years old to buy smoking tobacco.
This spring marks the second consecutive year the coalition has partnered with the prosecutor's office to send the letters to parents. The coalition was formed in 2000 to address underage drinking in Southeast Missouri and inform parents and children of its dangers.
"Hopefully, parents, the schools and the community can join together to make a difference in reducing underage drinking and other high [risk] behaviors for our most precious community resource -- your child," the letter says.