Beginning this January, the Parents Matter Coalition will offer a new way for youth and parents in the area to become more educated on the subject of underage alcohol and drug use.

The ‘Prime for Life: Under 21’ program is comprised of several sessions and includes classes geared towards youth ages 12 to 18, young adults 19 to 21 and parents. The goal is to prevent and divert adolescents from using illegal substances while also educating parents on how to talk to their children about drugs and alcohol.

Parents Matter project director Ruby Douglas, who is also a certified program instructor, said that Prime for Life was offered up until 2009 and is now being brought back due to a need expressed by the community.

“The consequences of underage drinking and other substance abuse have become not only a health issue, but a financial burden and safety issue concerning the communities of Pierre and Fort Pierre,” Douglas said. “A lot of the kids who were picked up in other counties for underage drinking were ordered by a judge to go to this program, but we didn’t have it.”

In 2012, more than 170 arrests for underage alcohol consumption were reported by the Pierre Police Department, according to Capt. Elton Blemaster. While the arrests were evenly spread, the peak occurred during November.

Douglas noted that while underage drinking is less common now than in previous years, it’s still important to have the program available, especially during the holidays when students return home from college and party more regularly.

The Parents Matter Coalition administers a pride survey every year to sixth through 12th graders and every other year to parents and school staff. This past fall, only 20 percent of students surveyed reported abusing substances in the last 30 days.

This percentage has been decreasing yearly, and Douglas attributes the decline to greater knowledge of the consequences of underage use.

“Kids realize that there’s a chance of becoming addicted. They’re more health-conscious now than they were 20 years ago,” Douglas said. “It’s important to educate youth on how addiction and health consequences work. Alcohol is a gradual addiction, and people usually don’t develop addiction until their mid-twenties or thirties.”

The Prime for Life program is part of a nationwide organization dedicated to conducting its own research and spreading education about underage substance abuse. Douglas said that the three sets of classes for teens, young adults and parents, are based on updated and accurate facts and data that have been collected through Prime for Life’s research.

“You better be up front, know your facts and present them to the youth – not your opinions,” Douglas said. “There’s no room for being judgmental; kids make mistakes.”

Douglas said that the program is not exclusive and is open to neighboring communities outside of Pierre and Fort Pierre as well. She suggests that parents refer their children if they suspect that they’re experimenting with drugs or alcohol.

“Our thinking is, why wait until they get into the judicial system? Let’s get it at this end and cut it short,” Douglas said.

For more information on the Prime for Life program, visit www.parentsmattercsd.com or www.parentsmattercsd.com/documents/PRIMEForLife2012-1211.pdf. Call 224-3189 or email parentsmatter@pie.midco.net to enroll.

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