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Parents, fake IDs undermine efforts to stop underage drinking

July 12, 1999
Web posted at: 8:55 PM EDT (0055 GMT)

From CNN's Brad Wright

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Parents who serve alcohol at parties and the availability of high quality fake IDs through the Internet are two elements of American culture which encourage underage drinking, according to activists dedicated to stopping it.

Mothers Against Drunk Driving joined the Justice Department's Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention on Monday to release a study that said the criminal and health costs of underage drinking total more than $58 billion every year.

"It is costing our society an average of $577.91 per year for every household in the United states," according to MADD President Karolyn Nunnallee.

The study, conducted by the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation, said that of the $58 billion in costs for underage drinking, some $18 billion is accounted for in traffic crashes, nearly $36 billion in violent crime such as murder and rape, while burns, drownings, suicide attempts, fetal alcohol syndrome and alcohol poisoning account for another $4 billion.

Nunnallee singled out some parents as contributors to a national tragedy.

"Parents still condone underage drinking as a rite of passage, accepting it as something that kids are going to do anyway," she said. "We have to stop sending mixed messages to our kids by downplaying the dangers of alchohol use by our youth. It's wrong to tell our kids that it's okay to drink when you are under 21, as long as you don't drive or use any other illicit drugs."

At a Washington news conference, a student demonstrated the ease in which a minor can search for any of dozens of Web sites that can produce phony ID cards and drivers licenses.

"My estimates are approximately 20 to 35 percent of all our youth have false identification in their possession," said Montgomery County, Maryland, police Lt. Tom Didone. "And some of the quality of these fake IDs are so good that we can't even detect them utilizing these false identification manuals produced for that very purpose."

MADD and the Office of Juvenile Justice announced a "partnership" which intends to bring youth and law enforcement together to stop underage drinking in 14 communities around the country. For many teen-agers involved, that means participating in "stings" at bars and retail stories that sell alcohol.

"One of our most rewarding and eye-opening projects has been working with local police departments on undercover compliance checks of businesses that sell alcohol," said teen-ager Nicole Swanson of Omaha, Nebraska.

"During our last compliance check, 27 of the 128 establishments sold to minors. Overall, we found that when businesses checked IDs, they were less likely to sell alcohol to minors. But when establishments did not card, most ended up selling alcohol to youth," said Swanson.

She said publicity about their effort seemed to be paying off, since the number of establishments selling alcohol to minors was down 8 percent since the last compliance check in Omaha.

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