MADD’s accomplishments over 25 years are commendable, and I deeply appreciate its support of an issue I have worked on for years: the crisis of underage drinking in our country. Joining us in this bipartisan effort are my colleagues Frank Wolf, Zach Wamp, Rosa DeLauro and Tom Osborne and Senators Dodd and DeWine. Our partnership has had some important successes in our fight against underage drinking.
The Institute of Medicine, for example, conducted a landmark study that highlighted the crisis of underage drinking in our country. As a result of this study, we were able to secure funding for a national media campaign aimed at parents. The media campaign conducted by the Ad Council is scheduled to begin airing in November.
Hopefully, these ads will help reverse the outcome of a study by HHS, which found there has been no reduction in underage drinking. In the past month, nearly 11 million kids reported drinking alcohol, with over seven million being binge drinkers, and over two million being heavy drinkers – and tragically, by today’s end, 7,000 kids under the age of 16 will take their first drink. These statistics are essentially unchanged from 2002 and 2003.
The urgency of our health crisis is amplified when one considers that young people who begin drinking before the age of 15 are four times more likely to become alcoholics than those who drink after age 21, twenty-two times more likely to use marijuana, and 50 times more likely to try cocaine than kids who do not drink. Add to that the many problems associated with underage drinking such as increased car accidents, suicides and violent behavior, and one begins to sense the enormity of the problem. As new information is uncovered about the effects of underage drinking, the urgency of prevention is even greater -- a fact made clear this year, when the National Institute on Drug Abuse testified that alcohol may affect adolescent brain development until age 25.
With such compelling information, the question is why haven’t we been able to do more to prevent the crisis of underage drinking? The answer is: the alcohol industry. This powerful adversary benefits from the fact that teenage drinking is nearly 20 percent of alcohol consumption in the United States – or $22.5 billion dollars annually. If one talks to the alcohol industry however, they would tell you it does not encourage underage drinking, a statement that is hard to believe when you consider that in 2002, the alcohol industry spent $990 million on ads promoting alcohol use, and only $10 million on responsible drinking ads. The result of this lopsided spending is that an American youngster, on average, saw one ad discouraging underage drinking to 609 ads promoting alcohol consumption. There is little wonder that underage drinking is a national health crisis.
MADD, and my congressional colleagues and you, must continue to fight for the passage of the STOP Underage Drinking bill. The STOP Underage Drinking bill is designed to address the Institute of Medicine’s findings that parents underestimate the use of alcohol by their children. To help parents understand the consequences of underage drinking, the STOP Underage Drinking Act makes permanent the national media campaign. In addition, it makes permanent the interagency council, mandates extensive reporting requirements by HHS, and establishes a report card to track the efforts of states. The bill also makes grants available to communities to help them address this problem, and for research to develop more effective strategies to curb underage drinking.
The passage of the STOP Underage Drinking bill is a critical step to address our national health crisis facing our youth. MADD’s successes, and the first-hand stories you bring to your representatives and senators are exactly what we need to take this issue out of the shadows and make the fight against underage drinking the national priority it must be. Therefore, I sincerely thank you for coming to Washington to carry our message to Congress. By working together, we can and will successfully confront this health crisis and reduce the terrible toll it is taking on our youth and on our nation’s future for generations to come.