Department of Mental Health combats underage drinking in state 

The Oklahoma Department of Mental Health is trying its best to change that.

Recently, it was reported that around 28 percent of Oklahomans under the age of 21 admit to being binge drinkers, defined as having more than five drinks in one occasion. In order to battle such stats, strategies and initiatives are in place to educate teens and their parents.

Currently, the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health’s 17 Area Prevention Resource Centers throughout the state work to pass local policies restricting youth access to alcohol. These centers also work directly with community coalitions, such as 2 Much 2 Lose (2M2L), the state’s overall underage drinking program initiative, according to Jessica Hawkins, director of prevention services for the state mental health department.

“The 2M2L initiative has two major components,” Hawkins said. “The first thing that we do is work directly with law enforcement to increase compliance with the law and to train them how to best handle situations involving alcohol. The second is the youth leadership component.”

2M2L has youth coalitions in schools and communities called 2M2L clubs that try to raise awareness among their peers and advocate against underage drinking.

While it’s important for young people to be educated about alcohol, it is equally important that those who sell and serve it are just as informed, said Hawkins. In Oklahoma, training is not required in order to sell or serve alcohol. As a result, the state mental health department is evaluating and developing Responsible Beverage Service Training to teach merchants everything from Oklahoma alcohol laws to how to deny a customer another drink when they’ve had too many.

“It’s unfortunate that Oklahoma doesn’t require training, because it’s very important,” Hawkins said. “It’s a big gap that needs to be filled, but we’re working very hard to make sure that everyone can receive that training for free.”

Underage drinking has made more than just the numbers in the statistics rise. It was recently estimated that it costs the state $939 million annual, ranking Oklahoma 14th in the country for the financial cost of underage drinking.

Also, according to a 2009 report titled “Shoveling Up II: The Impact of Substance Abuse on Federal, State and Local Budgets” conducted by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University, for every $100 that Oklahoma spends on substance abuse and addiction, only $2.30 is spent on prevention and treatment. The other $97 is the burden of substance abuse to public programs.

“We spend more money on cleaning up the consequences of substance abuse than we actually do preventing or treating it,” Hawkins said. “The message is that we have to invest in these prevention strategies if we want to really make a difference. ”

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