A new local coalition will host a meeting next week to address the serious and often overlooked issue of underage drinking in Paducah and McCracken County.
The McCracken County Kentucky Agency for Substance Abuse Policy (KY-ASAP), a new group that seeks to reduce substance abuse in the local community, will hold a town hall meeting from 7 to 8 p.m. Monday in the Baptist Health Paducah Heart Center auditorium.
The meeting, "Not my child: A community discussion about underage drinking," will be geared toward parents, but the entire community is invited to attend, according to Ellen Walsh, certified substance abuse prevention specialist at Four Rivers Behavioral Health in Paducah.
"You hear a lot about prescription drugs and meth, but the truth is the drug of choice for youth is alcohol," she said. "More kids experiment with alcohol than with all other drugs combined."
Walsh said much of the focus will be on the importance for parents to speak to their children before they begin drinking, some as early as age 9.
The problem then can escalate in severity into the high school years. In McCracken County, 26 percent of high school sophomores have consumed alcohol in the last 30 days, and 23 percent have been intoxicated. For seniors, those percentages increase to 33 percent and 27 percent, respectively.
The meeting will also provide parents and caregivers with information about how to begin the conversation and vocalize their disapproval of underage drinking to their children.
"We have to fight underage drinking on a community level," she said. "We have to get the stakeholders involved and begin the conversation."
She said the forum will include a panel discussion with local representatives from law enforcement, the medical profession, a prevention specialist as well as a local youth representative and a recovering alcoholic.
Paducah police officer Gretchen Morgan and McCracken County Sheriff's Deputy Jared Rivera will speak about alcohol-related consequences, with statistics about local arrests. Primary care physician Dr. John Brazzell will discuss the effects of alcohol on the brain of an adolescent.
Samantha Powell, substance abuse prevention specialist, will talk about the underage drinking problem on the local level. Kennedy Powers, who represents the youth demographic, will emphasize her decision to avoid alcohol, and Carol Lipp will speak about her recovery from alcohol addiction and its negative impact on her life.
The McCracken County KY-ASAP group was formed last fall to bring awareness to alcohol abuse locally, and the town meeting will be the first major event, Walsh said. Two other regional counties will hold similar forums that are funded in part by the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).
The Graves County KY-ASAP meeting will be from 6 to 7 p.m. Monday, May 19, in the Graves High School Performing Arts Center. The Fulton County KY-ASAP session is set from 6 to 7 p.m. Thursday, May 22, at the Pontotoc building in Fulton.
Contact Kathleen Fox, a Paducah Sun staff writer, at 270-575-8651 or follow @kathleendfox on Twitter.