At the Maddox Law Firm, we've recently seen an increase in arrests and mug shot publications associated with allegations of underage drinking. Being both a devout believer in our work for people who come to us for protection and defense, but also a passionate volunteer in prevention, I can't help but speak up.
When it comes to the health and well-being of children and families, the best way to change behavior is through information.
By information, I really mean education.
One of our most successful public information campaigns in the United States was the campaign against smoking begun by Joseph Califano during the Carter administration. At the risk of oversimplifying, it was successful because it delivered its message about the dangers of smoking in a consistent, repetitive and sustained manner over a long period of time. For the same reason that advertising campaigns succeed, public information campaigns can succeed: messages that are memorable and repetitive.
If our communities are going to realize any success in measurably reducing underage drinking and drug use, our towns and cities must commit to a long term, sustained educational campaign. In fact, a curriculum should be taught in our public schools beginning at the early elementary level that follows the same type of development and advancement as any academic subject.
Investment in such a curriculum, one that takes a generational view toward changing families' attitudes toward underage drinking will yield extraordinary results in our communities. Paying teachers, instructors, and even law enforcement, as well as recruiting volunteers to engage in early, consistent, repetitive prevention will create undeniable returns on investment. Those returns will be in the form of reduced accidents, lowered addiction rates, decreased disease and death and a dramatic reduction in the financial costs associated with such casualties.
When we react to underage drinking, we have already failed.
When we invest primarily in interdiction and prosecution we have already failed. Education and data delivered in a sustained fashion with consistent messaging across agencies, boards of education and government will produce a next generation that shuns alcohol and drugs.