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Study: Underage drinking costs county $367 million

Social host ordinances aim to slow problem at house parties

STAFF WRITER

SAN BERNARDINO COUNTY• San Bernardino County absorbs approximately $367 million in annual costs to address underage drinking, according to a recent study.

The Pacific Institute of Research and Evaluation, an independent nonprofit public health organization, reported that 6,500 new teachers could be hired at that cost.

Though it isn’t clear how the cost is divvied up, the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse estimated the county’s nearly $2 billion annual costs associated with overall alcohol use — equivalent to average total salaries of 38,000 local law enforcement officers — included treatment for alcohol-related illnesses and injuries, as well as drunk driving and other alcohol-related crime.

In cities such as Victorville, San Bernardino and Rialto, officials are looking to curb underage drinking. They’re doing it in part by enacting social host ordinances, the Archs Institute, a county health and safety organization, stated in a press release Wednesday.

Under those ordinances, hosts are held accountable if they allow minors to drink alcohol (or consume other illegal substances) at gatherings or parties on private property.

Members of the Substance Abuse-Free Environment (SAFE) Coalition in Barstow have followed suit and drafted their own ordinance, though it has yet to be formally proposed to the City Council.

Councilman Rich Harpole, who also works with SAFE, said one element of the ordinance would allow the city to recoup money tied to police intervention at parties where those who are under age drink.

According to the Archs Institute, it’s a provision which would align with the ordinances of most other cities in the High Desert and Inland Empire that have one in place.

Rialto Police Chief William Farrar reported a 13 percent decrease in the number of calls for service related to house parties since that city enacted their social ordinance in 2010, according to the Archs Institute.

“Law enforcement is already stretched really thin,” Farrar said in a statement. “This ordinance allows us to free up a lot of our resources to deal with other pressing problems in the community.”

Shea Johnson may be reached at (760) 256-4126 or at SJohnson@DesertDispatch.com.


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