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Sauk County reminding residents about state's underage drinking law
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Sauk County reminding residents about state's underage drinking law

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Ahead of the Fourth of July holiday weekend, a Sauk County coalition is reminding residents about a Wisconsin law that makes it illegal to provide a location for underage drinking.

First-time violators of the 2017 Social Host Law can be fined up to $500 per underage drinker, even when they don’t supply the drinks, Sauk County Partnership for Prevention Coordinator Lindsay Patterson said.

Her coalition recently launched the campaign “Not in My House” to explain the law and curb underage drinking by providing free materials at the Sauk County Health Department. They include party tips and talking tips for adults to communicate with teens about alcohol and other drugs and yard signs that say “Not in My House,” letting the community know that underage drinking is not allowed on their property.

“With the Fourth of July, one of the biggest summer holidays upon us, our coalition wants to remind adults that the Social Host Law is there to protect our youth from alcohol-related harm,” said Patterson, a health educator for the Sauk County Health Department. “Alcohol remains the most commonly used substance among youth in the United States, in Wisconsin, and right here in Sauk County.”

Most local youths don’t get their alcohol from retailers but from social sources including older friends, siblings, parents and other relatives, said Sara Jesse, who founded the coalition in 2017 and is a community health strategist with the health department.

“We know now that drinking at a young age damages the developing brain, leading to other addiction problems,” Jesse said. “It’s the science we didn’t have when I was younger — when some of us might have thought of drinking as no big deal or a rite of passage.”

Other problems with underage drinking include falls, fights, sexual assaults and alcohol poisoning, Patterson said.

A Wisconsin Youth Risk Behavior Survey from 2019 showed that 18% of middle school students in Sauk County said they had consumed at least one alcoholic drink in the past 30 days, up from 17% in 2017, Patterson said. The 2019 data for high school students is not yet available, but Patterson said 27% of Sauk County high school students reported having a drink in the past 30 days in 2017, which is similar to past surveys and slightly below the state average of 30% in 2017.

“The main purpose behind our campaign is to empower parents — it’s not to shame anybody or make anybody feel like they’re not doing something correct,” Patterson said. “We know that what parents think matters a lot to their youth. If their kids know they disapprove of underage drinking, they’re less likely to engage in that behavior and so we want these materials available to (adults) to help them have those conversations.

“Parties are important — they’re important for youth, socially — and so we just want to make sure you’re supporting youth in a safe way and not encouraging the behavior that will hurt their developing brain.”

For more information about the campaign, visit notinmyhousewi.org. For more information about the coalition including virtual meetings, visit p4psauk.org.

Those interested in these topics may also contact Patterson at 608-355-4325 or Lindsay.patterson@saukcountywi.gov.

Follow Noah Vernau on Twitter @NoahVernau or contact him at 608-695-4956.

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