Make sure graduation 2012 is safe, healthy

Pete Orput
Guest Columnist

With high school graduation rapidly approaching, parents need to be reminded that it is a crime to provide minors with alcohol or a place to drink alcohol.

Though some teens drink without experiencing any lasting consequences, the activity is extremely risky. Alcohol consumption causes the death of about 5,000 American teenagers every year.

These deaths are unnecessary and are often caused by the adults who provide minors with alcohol or allow underage drinking parties to occur. Those adults who encourage underage drinking are harming children and also exposing themselves to both criminal and civil liability.

Some parents mistakenly believe that teen alcohol consumption is inevitable and allow it to occur under their watch.

However, public health research indicates that the children of parents that prohibit drinking are substantially less likely to consume alcohol.

A 2011 study, lead-authored by University of Minnesota professor Barbara McMorris, found that teens whose parents allow supervised drinking are more likely to have problems discontinuing alcohol use, have problems at school, problems at home, get into fights, suffer from injuries caused by alcohol, experience “blackouts” or unconsciousness due to extreme intoxication, and have sexual experiences they later regret.

There is also evidence that people who start using alcohol as teens are also much more likely to be alcohol dependent in their adult life.

As most people know, it is a crime for an adult to provide alcohol to minors.   However, many do not know that adults who provide alcohol to minors can be charged with a felony if the minors are hurt while intoxicated.

Many people are also unaware that under Minnesota law they could be liable for millions of dollars in damages if their home is used to host an underage drinking party.

Under Minnesota law any person who is harmed by an intoxicated minor may be able to sue the adult who provided the liquor or who failed to prevent underage drinking on their property. Similar laws in other states have resulted in multi-million dollar judgments against parents who hosted underage drinking parties.

For example, in a 2009 Illinois case, parents who did not know that their daughter was drinking with friends in their home had to settle a lawsuit for $2.5 million after one of the intoxicated minors drove drunk.

As a former high school teacher, I am all too aware of the consequences caused by underage drinking.

I also know that the danger of these parties increases with the approach of graduation season. That is why I am working with our Washington County law enforcement partners to investigate and prosecute those involved with underage drinking parties.

I am also offering training to our law enforcement agencies to ensure the successful prosecution of these offenses. Community members who see signs of a possible underage drinking party should notify police immediately and know that their concerns will be taken seriously.

The Washington County Attorney’s Office and our law enforcement community are proud of the graduating class of 2012. We congratulate them on all their hard work and dedication.

We wish every high school student in Washington County a safe and healthy graduation season.

— Pete Orput in the Washington County Attorney.