For Paul Fuchs, the battle against underage drinking s personal. As a first responder and an EMT, he’s seen his share of car crashes with deadly and debilitating outcomes. He also lost a sister to a drunken driver. And his hometown is Tekoa, Wash., a small farming community that lost two high school students in car crashes last year.
“When your total student body is very small, and you lose two students in crashes, it’s a really hard hit for everyone,” Fuchs said.
At last Thursday’s town hall meeting on underage drinking put on by the Greater Spokane Substance Abuse Council in partnership with Spokane Public Schools’ Grant to Reduce Alcohol Abuse, with funding from the Substance Abuse Mental Health Services Administration, Fuchs was one of the presenters.
His focus was on mock car crashes, and the room fell silent as he began showing a video of a mock crash he staged last fall at Oakesdale High School.
“You shouldn’t be drinking and driving,” Fuchs said. “As a first responder I know that the calls involving a young person are the worst calls to get. No parents should have to bury their children.”
Fuchs has started a Facebook page where he posts news stories about car crashes that involve drinking or drug use, as well as crashes where the driver or passengers were not wearing seat belts.
“I look for them every day, all over the place,” Fuchs said. “Since New Year’s, I’ve posted well over 350 of them. People get my updates on their own Facebook pages, every day, and that way they don’t forget about what’s going on out there.”
The town hall meeting at Contract Based Education in Spokane Valley was the second of two held last week.
“I’m happy to see there are more people here tonight than there were at the one in West Central,” said Linda Thompson, executive director of the GSSAC.
About 50 people – some teens, some younger, some parents and some teachers – showed up. “We are hoping to see parents and families, especially children in middle school,” Thompson said. “It’s at middle-school age and before that we really have a chance to influence the kids so they make good decisions.”
A group of volunteer students from Washington Drug Free Youth – WDFY or ‘why defy’ – put on a puppet show aimed at elementary students. One of the puppets, Mr. Daiquiri, is confronted by his puppet heart, liver, brain and stomach, which all tell him how his drinking is hurting them. The puppet judge ends up revoking Mr. Daiquiri’s license, telling him to take the bus or ride a bike to work until he gets his license back.
After the show, Thompson told the teens in the room that they are great role models for their younger peers.
“You guys are like rock stars to younger students,” Thompson said. “So when you stand up and say you don’t use, they make the decision to not use a lot sooner.”
The evening began with pizza and displays in the lobby.
One display was a quiz featuring myths and truths about drinking – another was a collection of empty cans that challenged youths to identify the alcoholic beverage among energy drinks, a task that stumped quite a few.
“Alcohol is the leading cause of death among teens,” Thompson said.
Another part of the evening was dedicated to the Healthy Youth Survey – a local survey of teens and youths that’s conducted every other year.
Numbers showed that binge drinking is on the rise, especially among girls, and that more than 40 percent of high school seniors and more than 30 percent of high school sophomores drank alcohol in the past 30 days.
Avoiding alcohol is not just about drinking and driving; it’s also about limiting alcohol’s impact on normal brain development in teens.
Throughout the evening, one point was repeated many times.
“Talk to your kids and take the time to really listen to your kids,” said Fuchs. “That should be at the very top of the list of things you do to prevent them from drinking.”
Fuchs also encouraged the teens and youths in the room to take care of each other, and to not be afraid to call someone for help or support if a party has gotten out of control.
“Use the buddy system,” he said. “Go together and watch out for each other; don’t leave your friends behind. Help them if they get in trouble.”