AG recommends education to combat alcohol abuse

By Kevin Wilson: Freedom Newspapers

PORTALES — Patricia Madrid thinks tougher laws, including ignition locks for convicted drunken drivers and felony charges for those who provide alcohol to minors, will be effective in combating underage and binge drinking.
But New Mexico’s attorney general thinks that’s only part of the solution.
“We have to change the culture, and it’s possible,” Madrid said Thursday afternoon on the campus of Eastern New Mexico University. She was there with more than 50 ENMU students, employees and faculty members to promote a program intended to educate college students about the dangers of alcohol.

Alcohol 101 Plus, Madrid said, is a nationwide effort by the Century Council to educate students with the hope of keeping them out of dangers that she saw as a judge.

“During that time (on the bench), I saw firsthand what substance abuse leads to,” Madrid said. “It destroys the present and it destroys and cripples the future for many young people.

“Just one night of too much alcohol can change so much.”

Colleges seemed to be an ideal place to start, according to statistics provided by Madrid and the Century Council. A Core Institute survey said 84 percent of students under 21 reported using alcohol within the past year, and 69 percent within the past 30 days.

Madrid said the culture is that alcohol is a part of life, but the culture can change. She cited the decreased use of cigarettes and the increased use of seatbelts as examples of culture changes.

The program, which was distributed to attendees via a free CD-ROM, had videos of scenarios college students might run into — alcohol at parties, sexual assault and alcohol poisoning — with alternate endings depending on choices made throughout. Also demonstrated during the session was a “virtual bar,” which calculated BAC (blood alcohol content) by a person’s height and weight, and what types of drinks were consumed.

Michael Pitts of the ENMU police department said law enforcement had an important role in keeping students safe, but an alcohol prevention program could do so much more than he could.

“When you drink, you put yourself in positions you don’t want to be in,” said Pitts, who added that in 90 percent of reported sexual assaults, at least one person had been drinking.

With its cartoon hosts Julie and Jim guiding students throughout the campus of information and situations involving alcohol, the program was presented like a computer game. Game or not, state Rep. Anna Crook, R-Clovis, hoped the program would have an impact.

Crook, who attended the program on Alcohol 101 Plus, said she has worked with other legislators across the country on a program called Second Chance.

Second Chance is a six-month rehabilitation program for people in jail that begins with detoxification. Crook said Second Chance is something she hopes to get off the ground in New Mexico, but she added that education could keep people out of prison in the first place.

“I think it’s much better to get it at the front end,” Crook said, “instead of when they’re incarcerated.”