A top state official visited Riverhead High School on Monday to kick off a statewide campaign aimed at curbing underage drinking and drug use, especially during the prom and graduation season.
“Graduation and prom are major milestones for students and their families, and they should be happy occasions,” said Arlene González-Sánchez, commissioner of the state Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services. “These celebrations can have lethal consequences if they involve alcohol or drugs.”
González-Sánchez, who spoke to school officials, local politicians and several hundred seniors in the high school cafeteria, said the Talk2Prevent campaign “urges parents and guardians to have open, regular discussions, in advance of these milestone events, so that our young people know just how dangerous these substances can be and they can do their part to keep themselves and their friends safe during this time of year.”
The campaign will include a new radio public service announcement and digital ads urging parents to have regular discussions about alcohol and drug abuse, and how they can make a plan with their children about getting out of situations involving alcohol or drug use.
The ads also will run on Spanish-language radio stations. The campaign will include coffee sleeves reminding parents and adults to talk with teens about underage drinking and substance abuse. There also will be place mats, along with posters stating, “The way you talk to your child becomes their inner voice” and “Alcohol and drugs have no place in a healthy childhood.”
The posters are available on the Talk2Prevent website for downloading, and can be used in schools or communities.
González-Sánchez’s office released statistics showing that underage drinking and drug abuse remain significant problems. Some 75 percent of high school seniors in New York State say they have used alcohol, even though the legal drinking age is 21.
An estimated 24 percent of high school juniors and seniors engaged in binge drinking within the two weeks prior to a survey conducted by González-Sánchez’s office in 2014-15.
One in 10 teens say they have driven under the influence of alcohol during the summer, according to another survey she cited.
The Riverhead Community Awareness Program Inc., a nonprofit group, has taken steps to help curb alcohol and drug use among teens, said the group’s executive director, Felicia Scocozz, who was honored at the event.
The group has hosted a pre-prom event for several years in which students gather at Riverhead High School, pose for photos on a red carpet, listen to music spun by a DJ and then take chartered buses to the site of the prom. At the end of the party, they return to the high school in the chartered buses.
Parents receive a “prom contract” they must sign acknowledging they are aware of a Suffolk County law that they can be jailed for up to a year and fined up to $1,000 if they host a party where underage people consume alcohol.
Scocozza said her group is not aware of any underage drinking incidents in Riverhead in the three years the group has run the event.