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Janell Cole, Published September 12 2007

Targeting sobering statistic

BISMARCK – North Dakota is no longer No. 1 in the nation in underage drinking, but that’s no reason to let up on efforts to combat the problem, said North Dakota’s first lady and the acting U.S. surgeon general.

Mikey Hoeven invited Dr. Kenneth Moritsugu to Bismarck this week to speak at the state Alcohol and Substance Abuse Summit after his office issued a call to action to prevent and reduce underage drinking in March.

Hoeven has worked on the issue since shortly after her husband took office in 2001. She is now co-chairwoman of the national group Leadership to Keep Children Alcohol Free.

She said federal authorities who track underage drinking have not told her where North Dakota now ranks, just that the state is no longer No. 1 – but is still among the top states.

She told those attending the substance abuse summit that the improvement is due to their hard work as the “militia” in the efforts. But she and Moritsugu said in an interview that it doesn’t matter where the state ranks because any amount of underage drinking is too much.

Moritsugu told the summit audience that the cost to North Dakota in medical care, work loss, pain and suffering due to underage drinking is $2,200 per year for each young person. He said there are better ways the state could help youth with the money.

He called on the audience to help make community attitudes less tolerant of underage drinking so it is no longer perceived as a harmless rite of passage.

Moritsugu and Hoeven spoke to the student body of Bismarck’s Horizon Middle School, telling them that youth who begin drinking before they are 15 have a 40 percent chance of being addicted to alcohol as an adult.

Moritsugu told students that scientists now know young people’s brains are still developing into their mid-20s. When he was in medical school about 40 years ago, he was taught that the human brain is fully developed by age 2½, he said.

Cole works for Forum Communications Co., which owns The Forum. She can be reached at (701) 224-0830 or forumcap@btinet.net