Washington Healthy Youth Coalition: Keeping Youth Free From Alcohol and Marijuana

DBHR has secured grants from the federal Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention since 1998 to fund strategies to reduce underage drinking.  Because underage drinking is a leading cause of injury and death among teens, and their primary drug of choice, it is our highest prevention priority.  More youth under the age of 21 die from alcohol-related injuries in the U.S. than from the use of tobacco and illicit drugs combined.  An average of 1,400 college students die each year due to alcohol abuse.  Underage drinking is also a huge cost to our state's citizens.  The Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation estimated this cost at $1.4 billion in 2010.   

Now that marijuana is legal for adults 21 and older in Washington, our prevention priorities have expanded to include a focus on preventing underage use of marijuana. 

Washington Healthy Youth Coalition

The Coalition provides state-level leadership to reduce underage drinking and marijuana use by leveraging resources and strengthening communities in Washington.  Membership draws from over two dozen state agencies and statewide organizations.  There are two sub-committees, called Impact Teams, which focus on communications and policies.

Some of the work of Coalition's work includes:

  • Creating, maintaining and promoting the www.StartTalkingNow.org website for parents, caregivers, educators, and other adult influencers. 
  • Planning and implementing statewide education campaigns, and providing educational materials to community-based organizations and schools. 
  • Supporting policy changes at the state and community level to reduce youth access and exposure to alcohol.
  • Awarding Let's Draw the Line mini-grants each spring to coalitions and community groups for projects to support community norms, policies and enforcement efforts that help to prevent underage drinking.

Enforcing Underage Drinking Laws Discretionary Grant

The grant has a community-level and a state-level component.  Most of the efforts and funding addresses the community-level component. Coalitions in four pilot communities implement a comprehensive mix of underage drinking prevention strategies, with a major focus on working with their local and county law enforcement agencies.  Enforcement activities supported by this project include compliance checks, high visibility party patrols, and source investigations.  Communities also conduct activities for making schools safer, policy development and raising community awareness of enforcement efforts through media messaging.  The community-level component ends March 31, 2014.  The state-level component ends September 30, 2014. 

Prevention Works

Our collective work is making a difference.  Since 1998, underage drinking and binge drinking have been reduced by half.  The 2012 Healthy Youth Survey showed that more youth are talking with their parents about alcohol and 11,000 fewer youth used alcohol compared to 2010.  Students report an increased commitment to school, local ordinances have been passed to reduce youth access and exposure to alcohol, and there is more prevention collaboration among schools, law enforcement, government agencies, health professionals, and community groups that serve youth.

While these are very positive outcomes, there is much more prevention work to be done.  One in four (28%) 10th graders reported drinking in the past month in the last  Healthy Youth Survey.  That's more than double the percentage of 10th graders who smoke cigarettes.

For more information about the Healthy Youth Coalition, contact Scott.Waller@dshs.wa.gov.