Grant to help curb drinking

The city will receive a $180,000 grant to help curb underage drinking, city officials announced Thursday.

The grant was offered to the New Haven Commission on Substance Abuse Policy and Prevention as part of a $2 million statewide allocation of funds by the Connecticut Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services. While state and city officials praised the grant — which will be paid out over the next three years in $60,000 installments — they said it remains unclear how exactly the money will be used.

The organizations likely to benefit from the funding have been developing ways to utilize the money, DHMAS spokesman Wayne Dailey said, but no formal plans have been announced.

Because the grant is specifically meant to curb underage drinking, the funding will likely be used for educational purposes, mayoral spokeswoman Catherine Sullivan-DeCarlo said.

“There’s a very concerted effort to work with kids,” Sullivan-DeCarlo said. “[The commission] has a nice group of Hillhouse [High School] students we’ve been working with on messaging that’s appropriate for kids.”

Alcohol is the drug of choice for Connecticut’s youth, according to statistics released by the governor’s office, with the average age of alcohol initiation being around 11 years old — two years under the national average.

Armmand said in a statement released Thursday that the city needs to continue to focus its resources on preventing underage drinking.

“This funding will allow us to support the engagement of hands-on youth driven leadership and to create policy strategies to reduce underage drinking and related harms,” she said.

Dailey said he thinks the funds will be used to further an anti-drinking message through education. The most effective strategy for curbing drinking, he said, is to engage youth and use them to send positive messages to their peers.

“We want to involve youth in leadership roles,” Dailey said. “We’re bringing them into the process. We’re helping them frame their message to work on their peers, because we know that young people are sometimes not as interested in listening to adults.”

New Haven has also taken action on the supply side of the underage drinking issue. The New Haven Police Department combs the city at least twice a year to make sure vendors are complying with existing liquor laws, Commission director Esther Armmand said. Usually, she said, about 20 percent of the establishments surveyed fail. On Thursday, local nightclub Toad’s Place agreed to pay $90,000 in fines and close for 90 days after 87 underage patrons were found in possession of alcohol during a Liquor Control Commission raid last November.

According to state statistics, 47 percent of high school juniors and seniors said easy access to alcohol is the major factor that encourages them to drink.

While Sullivan-Decarlo said vendors do make it easier for underage youth to access alcohol, she also said parents have exacerbated the problem through their willingness to look the other way while their children drink. Sometimes, she said, parents even facilitate drinking. Authorities caught nine underage high school students drinking at a house in North Branford last week, which resulted in the arrest of the homeowner, Caroline Pethink, under a new law holding homeowners responsible for underage alcohol consumption on their property.

“There is a tremendous problem with parents allowing underage kids to have parties at home and serving liquor,” she said. “There’s a case in North Branford right now that’s incredible, where parents have been charged.”

The governor’s office estimates that 61 percent of teen drinking occurs at parties in their own homes, with 30 percent of the teens saying they get alcohol from home with parental permission.

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