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August 19, 2014

Merced effort to target young drinkers

The city of Merced will partner with county agencies and law enforcement to try to better educate young people on the dangers of alcohol.

The city of Merced will partner with county agencies and law enforcement to try to better educate young people on the dangers of alcohol, which could be increasingly important as Merced gets an influx of college students.

With a 6-0 vote during its Monday meeting, Merced City Council accepted a $330,068 grant from the Merced County Health Department. The effort is aimed at educating young people from 12 to 25 on underage and binge drinking.

Councilman Noah Lor recused himself from the vote because he is a clinician for the Health Department.

Mike Conway, a spokesman for the city, said the grant was similar to others offered to college towns in the state. He noted that the grant was not a sign that Merced has a specific problem with underage or binge drinking.

Alcohol is the most commonly used and abused drug among young people, including tobacco or illicit drugs, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Americans between the ages of 12 and 20 drink about 11 percent of all the alcohol consumed in the country. The vast majority is gulped down in the form of binge drinking, when a person has several drinks over a short period of time.

The Merced Police Department, UC Merced Police Department, Merced County Probation Department, Merced County District Attorney’s Office and the city attorney’s office are part of the effort. Those entities will team with the Merced Community Violence Intervention and Prevention Task Force, which exists in Merced to educate the community.

With UC Merced’s plans to expand to 10,000 students by 2020, the city will see more people within the program’s targeted age range – a group with a greater number of people who are statistically more likely to binge drink.

Police Chief Norm Andrade said the grant has been a source of funding for the Police Department for a few years. It will be increasingly important as the demographic skews younger, he said.

“It’s very important that we not only educate people but perhaps prevent them from drinking,” he said.

The young people in the city need to understand the pitfalls of alcohol, he added.

Underage drinkers on average consume more drinks during a drinking session than adult drinkers, according to the CDC. People who drink before turning 15 are also five times more likely to develop a dependency on alcohol.

The grant will pay for extra police staffing during enforcement periods and educational activities.

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