Utilizing youth volunteers, the Northwest Center for Behavioral Health (NCBH), along with the Alcoholic Beverage Laws Enforcement (ABLE) Commission and the Woodward County Sheriff's office, recently conducted alcohol compliance checks at 25 local businesses.

During the checks the group went to 12 retailers that sell for off-site consumption, which includes convenience, grocery and liquor stores, and 13 on-site retailers, such as restaurants, Ashley Ferguson, prevention coordinator for NCBH, said.

Ferguson said 3 restaurants and 1 convenience store in Woodward sold alcohol to minors during this check.  These retailers were Ramiro's Mexican Restaurant, K-Bob's Restaurant, Pizza Hut and the Domino Express convenience store at 1st and Oklahoma.

"In each of these businesses, only 1 employee was responsible for the selling to minors," she said.

And it is the individual employees who will be responsible for the alleged illegal sales.

"The fines for selling to minors vary," Ferguson said. "For the sale of low point or 3.2 beer it is a misdemeanor for the employee who sells it. (While) the sale of high point beer, wine or liquor, to a minor, is a felony offense and criminal charges will be filed and the person will go to jail."

Ferguson also said that along with the possible criminal charges, in felony cases the ABLE commission will tag on a $1,000 fine just for the person's first offense.

One of the goals of the compliance checks is to help remind retailers of the importance of asking for identification and then checking those IDs before selling alcohol, by showing that there are consequences for selling to minors.

"We work closely with local law enforcement agencies on these compliance checks and social host campaigns to inform the public of the consequences of providing alcohol to underage people," Ferguson said.

Ferguson said the compliance checks are required to be done quarterly within the region.

In addition to compliance checks, NCBH also offers classes to retailers on how to read an ID properly and how to refuse service to minors or those who have had too much to drink, Ferguson said.

Together the checks and compliance classes are part of the bigger picture of what the NCBH is trying to do, which is reduce underage drinking.

In order to address the issue of underage drinking, Ferguson said it is important to recognize how big of an issue it really is.

In a 2010 study, students in 6th, 8th, 10th and 12th grades were asked if they had more than a few sips of an alcoholic beverage on one or more occasion.

Results from that survey showed that numbers for Woodward County, on average, were significantly higher than those of the rest of the state.  The following statistics show what percentage of students in each grade admitted to having more than a few sips of alcohol:

6th graders - Woodward County: 37.4%; state 27.9%

8th graders - Woodward County: 62.5%; state 48.0%

10th graders - Woodward County: 75.2%; state 63.6%

12th graders - Woodward County: 84.5%; state 74.0%

Parents play a big part of helping to control underage drinking Ferguson said.

"If parents give an inconsistent message by drinking irresponsibly, then their kids will do the same," she said.

Ferguson said that the best prevention method is parental involvement and for parents to actively communicate with their children about the dangers of drinking before the age of 21.

"Even though we do not offer the one on one service, if any parents need help on how to talk to their kids about drinking they can call us at any time," Ferguson said.

Here are few tips from NCBH:

- Ask your teen what he or she knows about alcohol and what he or she thinks about teen drinking.

- Listen carefully without interrupting, not only will this approach help your child to feel heard and respected, it can also serve as a natural "lead-in" to discussing alcohol topics.

- Remind teens that alcohol is a powerful drug that slows down the body and mind. It impairs coordination, slows reaction time and impairs vision, clear thinking and judgement.  And often people tend to be very bad at judging how seriously alcohol has affected them.

-Many kids believe that they already know everything about alcohol, but myths and misinformation are abundant.  Clear up some of these myths by helping teens to understand that beer and wine are not "safer" than hard liquor; that it takes 2 to 3 hours for a single drink to leave a person's system and nothing can speed the process up; and that anyone, including a teenager, can develop a serious alcohol problem.

For more information on how you can help prevent underage alcohol consumption, contact the NCBH at (580) 571-3240.