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Nov 14, 2012 12:10 AM by Rebecca Taylor

Reading, writing, drinking? Youth alcohol use in Tucson

TUCSON - Underage drinking: parents of elementary and middle school kids might not think they need to worry about the subject.

But a national survey shows that by the time they reach age 13, one in five kids will have their first full drink of alcohol.

How are Tucson schools impacted by this?

Tucson Police have issued 1,200 tickets to minors for underage possession in the past three years.

And UA researchers have compiled data to pinpoint which Tucson students, in which areas of Tucson they consider 'at risk'.

They shared their work with News 4 Tucson's Rebecca Taylor.

If you'd like an idea of what Tucson kids are facing, just ask them.

When asked how young kids are starting to drink these days, Tucson student Carissa says, "I've heard as young as eleven, ten."

"At our middle school, there was a party and someone brought alcohol, and all of them started drinking it," said another student named Damian.

Alexa Friedrich, a University of Arizona student, works with vulnerable kids as part of her pre-med program.

"I've heard of students bringing alcohol to school even," said Friedrich. "Family life, poverty, educational status, economic status, I think can play a huge role."

She says they've identified a correlation between neighborhood crime and youth drinking.

Friedrich says an unsafe environment surrounding schools can tempt good students to make poor decisions.

How does Tucson stack up?

According to TPD crime statistics, beats within Midtown and West Tucson have the highest number of burglaries.

They're located River to the North, Alvernon to the East, Broadway to the South and Campbell to the West.

With more than 270 incidents per beat in 2011.

Also in Midtown, Beat One saw more than six thousand major criminal offenses, ranging from sexual assault, arson, and car theft in 2011.

Six hundred of those involved alcohol and narcotics, the highest numbers in the city.

What are kids doing to get alcohol?

Carissa says, "sometimes if their parents have alcohol in the house, other kids get it from their friends."

"I've heard of a lot of ways kids are accessing alcohol now a days, from putting vodka in a water bottle. They'll bring the water bottle to school with them, acting like it's water but it's really alcohol," says Fredrich. "I've also heard of them ordering it online, and delivered to their home without having to sign for the package."

Officer Aninna Thornburg with the Tucson Police Department says keep kids busy.

It's not isolated to poor communities, she says. Lack of parental involvement, family support, or participation in after-school activities can add to alcohol temptation.

"Sports, the arts, anything after school that's going to keep them there until you can get there to pick them up. Involve the community, if they have to go home and be alone, talk to your neighbors and ask you neighbors to keep an eye on them," says Officer Thornburg.

A student survey from Doolen Middle School in Midtown shows almost four out of five kids go home, or to a friend's house after school, while only 10 percent stay at school for tutoring, or activities like Boys and Girls Club.

Friedrich is working with district leaders to improve after-school services, like a recent health fair, the first of many proactive activities - a better alternative to kids hitting the bottle.

A student named Tristan says, "it can really bring down your grades. You can really tell the people who do and don't drink."

If you're a parent, student, or teacher who wants more information on youth drinking prevention, or counseling, the Tucson/Pima County Commission on Addiction Treatment and Prevention has resources available.

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