A federal agency is paying for a discussion in Havre of a major concern in Montana and Hill County — underage drinking.
A Town Hall meeting is set for Monday, May 19, to look at ways to prevent and reduce the rate of underage drinking in this area.
Meeting coordinator Sarah Liston said the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, or SAMHSA, awarded a $500 grant to pay for the meeting, where, she said, people will brainstorm ideas about how underage drinking could be curbed.
Underage drinking also was targed as an issue of concern in a look at the top health needs in the county. The Hill County Health Consortium identified alcohol abuse, including underage drinking, as one of three initiatives on which to focus to improve health in the county in its three-year Health Improvement Plan.
That plan is still in the organizational stage, with implementation of actions set to start this summer and continue through the fall. The other initiatives identified were reducing the numbers of pregnant teenagers and increasing awareness of mental health problems and support for people with mental health problems.
The Town Hall meeting ties in with the alcohol abuse initiative, although it is not directly linked to the health improvement plan. The health assessment used in drafting the plan showed that binge drinking and heavy drinking both are high in Hill County.
Heavy drinking is defined as, for men, drinking more than two drinks a day and more than one drink a day for women.
Binge drinking — essentially, drinking to get drunk — occurs when a man drinks five or more alcoholic drinks or a woman drinks four or more alcoholic drinks on a single occasion. The modern accepted definition of binge drinking is drinking enough to raise the blood alcohol concentration of the drinker to .08 percent or higher.
Liston said that, statewide, 34 percent of people ages 12 to 20 report drinking in the last 30 days, and 34 percent of Montana traffic fatalities involve someone in that age group with alcohol in their system.
While the organizers have invited some specific people, including representatives of local government, the school district and the Boys & Girls Club of the Hi-Line, everyone is invited and welcome, she said.
The meeting will start with a short presentation including what laws, regulations and programs already are in place, then be opened to a discussion of underage drinking and what actions can be taken, she said.
The goal is to move beyond awareness of the problem and talk about what can be done — the focus will be on action and not just complaints or restating the problem, Liston said.
What is brought up in the discussion will be forwarded to SAMHSA and also will be available for local groups and agencies, she said.
Liston said she is sending out information in advance, “homework,” to make the discussion at the meeting more effective. That includes copies of current laws and policies regarding underage drinking. Liston said people can email her at firstname.lastname@example.org to request a copy of the information.
The meeting is set to start at 6 p.m. May 19 in the Activity Room at HRDC Building, 2229 5th Ave.