Doctors, State Officials & Youth Prepared to Answer the Surgeon General?s Call to Action

March 6, 2007

Today, Acting Surgeon General Kenneth Moritsugu issued a Call to Action To Prevent and Reduce Underage Drinking. The report identifies underage drinking as a ?major societal problem with enormous health and safety consequences? that ?will demand the Nation?s attention and committed efforts to solve.? The Surgeon General highlights new research that explains why youth react to alcohol differently from adults and explains why successful interventions must occur early, continuously and in the context of human development. He concludes that underage alcohol use is not inevitable and that adults are not powerless to prevent it. The Call to Action offers six goals for reducing and preventing underage drinking and outlines how parents, schools, prosecutors, health care professionals, government and community officials, and youth can achieve the goals.

Shortly after the release of the report, pediatricians, state officials and young people came together to say they were prepared to answer the Surgeon General?s Call to Action.

Maine?s Public Health Director, Dr. Dora Anne Mills, praised Dr. Moritsugu for his leadership in addressing this critically important child health issue. She said, ?Youth drinking is a major pediatric health crisis in this nation and in this state that is not getting better. New research has demonstrated the long-term and sometimes irreversible effects of alcohol on developing brains. This new research demands an urgent response ? we must get youth and parents to understand the significant and serious health risks associated with youth drinking.?

Dr. Donald Burgess, President of the Maine Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, echoed this sentiment and analogized this new research to research done in the 1970s related to the effect of alcohol on developing fetuses. ?Physicians have known since the early 70?s that alcohol has a significant, irreversible and sometimes devastating effect on the brain of the developing fetus. Many efforts and programs since that time have provided education to pregnant women around the disastrous effects of alcohol use during pregnancy. Pediatricians now know that pre-adolescent and adolescent brains continue to develop into young adulthood and the effect of alcohol use during this crucial neurological stage of life is no less significant than the effect on a developing fetus. That is why it is imperative that we, as pediatricians, must educate our patients and parents about the dangers of early alcohol use during well child exams as part of our regular anticipatory guidance.?

The Maine Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics pledged to work with the Maine Office of Substance Abuse (OSA) to develop and implement quick, simple interventions that can be used by pediatricians, school health coordinators and other health care professionals with parents and youth. This is one of the Surgeon General?s recommendations for health care professionals.

Kim Johnson, OSA Director said that these types of interventions can go a long way in changing the way we all think about underage drinking. ?In Maine, we?ve been particularly successful at using environmental strategies to reduce other types of youth substance use, and the National Academy of Sciences has already provided us with a roadmap for applying these strategies to underage drinking. We know these strategies work because Maine has achieved one of the lowest youth smoking rates in the country. We can do this for drinking too ? it?ll just take all of us working together.?

Kristin Ireland of the Youth Empowerment and Policy Group (YEP) said she was encouraged by the Surgeon General?s report. ?The Surgeon General?s Call to Action will help motivate youth and their parents to do more to change the social norms around underage drinking. I wish I had grown up in a world where parents didn?t host drinking parties, where it was hard to get alcohol and where I was not constantly bombarded with images of alcohol and drinking. I hope my kids will be able to grow up in a better environment.? She explained that this is why she?s been a part of YEP, a group that last year created a first in the nation Maine Alcohol Retailer?s Local Marketing Code of Conduct. This Code has been implemented in many Maine retail establishments.

Ally Beaucage and Tim Stretton of the Lewiston Youth Advisory Council are part of a local initiative in Lewiston to have high school students speak to 8th graders about entering high school and the peer pressure they will face around drinking. Their message is simple, it?s important to stay true to yourself and to your dreams. If you don?t, you risk losing everything. Their slogan, ?UBooze, ULooze? is made more powerful because the message is coming from older peers. Ally explained, ?We know that younger kids look up to us. They can?t wait to go to high school, and many think they need to give in to peer pressure to drink in order to fit in. We hope it means a lot to them to hear from older kids that you don?t have to drink to fit in and to have a good time. We hope by doing this work some kids will think twice about drinking.? Tim said, ?We?re doing our part and now that the Surgeon General has asked people to do more, we hope other kids around the state will start to speak out against drinking with their peers as well. We think this will start to make a big difference.?

Karen Baldacci is a member of the Leadership to Keep Children Alcohol Free. Since the National Academies of Science issued the Institute of Medicine?s Report on underage drinking entitled Reducing Underage Drinking: A Collective Responsibility, the Leadership has been working to implement the recommendations contained in the report. Mrs. Baldacci explained how the Surgeon General?s Call to Action will help this effort. She said, ?We already know what we need to do to prevent underage drinking. The Surgeon General?s Call to Action now tells us why it is so critical that increase our efforts to implement these recommendations.?

Attorney General Steven Rowe is in Washington D.C. attending the Surgeon General?s private briefing on the Call to Action. However, he expressed his strong commitment to work with state officials to implement the recommendations of the Call to Action. He said, ?The Surgeon General?s Call to Action must motivate us all to action. Our efforts must be more focused, more intense and we must use all of the tools at our disposal. But, we cannot do it alone ? we need everyone, every parent, every doctor, every educator, every community member to get involved and stay involved until we put a halt to this pediatric health crisis.?

Editor?s Note: The Co-Chairs of the Leadership Children Alcohol Free and Attorney General Steve Rowe, Co-Chair of the National Association of Attorneys General Youth Access to Alcohol Committee, met with the Surgeon General early last fall to offer their strong support for his Call to Action and to discuss a broader plan for implementing the Call to Action. These two groups will be an important part of the national effort to bring attention to the report and to help put the recommendations into action.

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