MERIDEN — Local youth are combating underage drinking with statistics and stickers placed on bags at a city liquor store.
“We feel like we’re actually making a change in the world,” said Mitchell McEwen, 18, a senior at Maloney High School and a member of the Meriden Healthy Youth Coalition, which modified the bags.
“Once I joined I realized how much it can teach myself and the peers around me what alcohol and drugs can do to you,” he said.
With an uncle who passed away after struggling with alcoholism and family members working through similar issues, he said, the message is already being taken to heart as some around him enter rehabilitation for their addictions.
“I just want to help the people (so) that it’s not too late,” he said. “I think that this program is an amazing thing and if more people came out and joined we could get amazing results.”
“The average American Boy has his 1st drink at age 11. Please don’t provide alcohol to teens,” read one of the 500 bags the coalition made for Village Liquor, located in a plaza on Scott Street, next to Meetinghouse Village. The notes are part of a campaign by the Meriden Healthy Youth Coalition called “sticker shock,” aimed at curbing alcohol consumption by teenagers.
Harry Patel, owner of the store, said the bags complement the message he gives to customers when he occasionally sees teenagers standing outside his door.
“It will educate them about the wellness” and value of not allowing minors to drink, he said. “We’re trying to help the community.”
There’s a positive reception from customers, said Patel, who has collaborated with the coalition since the program began in 2013.
“Some people see that and say that’s good, that’s good for the community,” he said.
He said the statistics on the bags have educated him about the scope of the problem. One of the bags, he said, said nearly a third of high school students reported having at least one drink of alcohol in the past month.
“The local businesses do want to support us,” said Erica Skoutas, a prevention professional with Hartford HealthCare, which partnered with the coalition and Students Against Destructive Decisions for the program.
Skoutas said the campaign reinforces messages about underage drinking. “It certainly increases education and awareness with the kids. So they certainly understand the importance of not using alcohol,” she said.
The state Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services reports that those who begin drinking before age 15 are six times as likely to misuse alcohol when compared to those who refrain until age 15.
The coalition also recently created three public service radio announcements on opioids.