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Teen problem behaviors high in Barton County
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BARTON COUNTY — Regional Prevention Centers around the state are highlighting the 2010 Communities That Care student school surveys, and the results show Barton County’s rates for overall alcohol use, binge drinking and drug use is higher than the average for the state and surrounding counties.

Regional Prevention Consultant Christina Hayes of the Regional Prevention Center of Northwest Kansas Smoky Hills Foundation explains the reasons. "Barton County is extremely high on risk factors that indicate substance abuse," she said.

One of the risk factors is norms favorable to alcohol and drug use. "It’s never a good thing to provide alcohol to minors," she said. She spoke of a culture in Barton County that "the mind set is it is a rite of passage to provide alcohol."

Alcohol use by teens may seem harmless, but in fact, it is not. "The youth brain is not fully developed until age 24," Hayes said. "The damage can be drastic because bodies are not developed. If they drink heavily at age 16, it can damage the brain," so maturation of the brain can stop at age 16 and hinder development.

She said that there is so much more medical information about brain development than there used to be. "Addiction can happen in six months to two years for a youth. In adult males over age 21, it takes 10-15 years and an adult female take seven to 10 years because the brain is fully developed."

On the day of the survey, teens were asked if they had drunk liquor in the last 30 days. Barton County data showed that 32.66 percent drank alcohol had while the remainder of the state average was 25.63.

Binge drinking rates are much higher than rest of the state. Barton County show 20.67 percent had five or more alcoholic drinks in the previous two weeks, while the data for Kansas is 13.77 percent, and Ellis County is 8.33.

Commanche County is highest in the state with 65.9 percent reporting that they have had alcohol once, and 43.2 percent had a drink in the last 30 days.

The county is also high on other risk factors including starting use alcohol or drugs at an early age, high amount of anti-social behavior, friends negative attitudes, gang involvement, negative family history, availability of drugs and alcohol, low neighborhood involvement and community disorganization.

The Alcohol Beverage Control Agent for Barton County conducted 11 liquor control buys in Barton County on July 27 with only one violation. "Retailers are doing what they should do," said Hayes. "They (teens) are getting alcohol from parents, older siblings and friends."

Social hosting is providing minors with alcohol. "Some parents think it is okay if they are not driving," said the prevention specialist.

Hayes explained the social hosting laws. "As a parent, if alcohol is provided to youth at your house and the teens are caught, parents could be charged and fined with social hosting," Hayes said. "Parents could be charged with social hosting if they are not home and the alcohol unattended."

Another contributing factor to the rates is the lack grant funding, and some of the surrounding counties have received grant funding for prevention efforts. "I’m always trying to find funding," said Hayes. The funding provides staff to focus on issues in the county, and also to provide extra funds to increase law enforcement.

"We need to do more saturation patrols," and DUI checkpoints, she said. It would also help "if people would call in parties." Sixty-seven percent of Barton County teens do not think they will be caught by the police if they drink alcohol versus 65.8 percent of the state. An anonymous phone number to call and report underage drinking is 1-866-MUST-B-21 (687-8221).

Substance abuse leads to other issues. "If you participate in substance abuse, you are at a higher risk for being sexually active so pregnancy and STD’s come into issue," said Hayes. The rate of live births per 1,000 women ages 10-17 is 10.37 for Barton County and 7.56 for the state of Kansas.

Hayes stressed the importance of schools participating in the survey each year. "The survey is reliable and valid and gives us ideas on attitudes and perceptions of behaviors," Hayes said. The next survey will be in December or January. All of the schools in Barton County participate, but not every year.

Results from the survey can be viewed at