Team aims to curb underage drinking

AIKEN --- Law enforcement is joining forces with Aiken County agencies and others to stop underage drinking.

"The idea, primarily, is to try and implement programs that are going to cut back, if not completely deter, underage drinking," said Harold Crawford, the coordinator of the Alcohol Enforcement Team in the 2nd Judicial Circuit. "It's a tremendous problem."

Working from an education perspective, the Alcohol Enforcement Team wants to inform youths, merchants and parents about the dangers of underage drinking.

"We're finding that the average (age) for them to start drinking is 12 to 13," Mr. Crawford said. He said children "who drink at an early age are more prone to become alcohol dependents."

The team conducts classes for merchants to teach them how to look at ID cards and how to deal with minors who try to buy alcohol or tobacco.

The Alcohol Enforcement Team and local law enforcement occasionally set up checkpoints to look for impaired drivers and test stores with an underage buyer to find out whether merchants are obeying the law.

The Aiken County Sheriff's Office, along with the Alcohol Enforcement Team, also conducts drug programs at schools.

Reach Michelle Guffey at (803) 648-1395, ext. 110, or michelle.guffey@augustachronicle.com.

IN SOUTH CAROLINA

- Underage drinking costs the state $899 million per year.

- About 186,000 underage youths drink each year.

- 71 percent of students in grades nine through 12 have tried alcohol.

- In 2005, youths younger than 21 consumed an estimated 12.2 percent of the alcohol consumed in South Carolina, totaling $228 million in sales.

Source: The Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation