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You can’t turn on the television or talk radio these days without hearing something about the ‘Swine Flu’ epidemic.  Everyone seems to be talking about the H1N1 virus and most parents are quite worried that this epidemic will effect their family.  The Centers for Disease Control said that as of this week, the flu is active in 41 states and that 86 children under the age of 18 had died from the 2009 flu strain.  That is tragic.  86 children.

But what if I told you there is another epidemic that is sweeping our nation that ANNUALLY kills 5,000 young people under the age of 21?  This epidemic is present in all 50 states, including Arizona.  The symptoms are easy to spot yet most parents take few, if any, precautions to protect their children from becoming affected.

Could we get as concerned about THAT epidemic?  Should we be as concerned?  It is much more prevalent and just as deadly…

The epidemic: underage drinking.  Underage drinking is the single highest cause of death for adolescents and young adults in the United States.  The 5,000 deaths annually includes about 1,900 deaths from motor vehicle crashes, 1,600 as a result of homicides, 300 from suicide, as well as hundreds from other injuries such as falls, burns, and drowning. And this does not take into account the thousands of young people who are hurt or permanently disabled due to underage drinking incidents.  (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Results from the 2002 National Survey on Drug Use). 

The tragic thing is that this epidemic is quite preventable.  Parents and caring adults are the single biggest influencer in the lives of young people.  According to youth, if their parents and/or caregivers discuss underage drinking with them and ask them to not drink, they are much more likely to not drink.  And most kids get access to alcohol from their adult friends or at home.  It is pretty simple: monitor the activities of youth, talk to them about the dangers underage drinking, and make clear family rules against it.

So while each of us takes our personal and familial precautions against the disease of the day – ‘Swine Flu’ – I challenge you to also be concerned and take familial precautions against the persistent and deadly epidemic of underage drinking.  Draw the Line against underage drinking.

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