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Is youth drinking worse than we think?

The public perceives youth drinking in North Dakota as less of a problem than people who work closely with alcohol prevention, a new survey shows. Among adults surveyed in North Dakota, 41.3 percent perceived alcohol use by youths as a serious pr...

The public perceives youth drinking in North Dakota as less of a problem than people who work closely with alcohol prevention, a new survey shows.

Among adults surveyed in North Dakota, 41.3 percent perceived alcohol use by youths as a serious problem, according to the North Dakota Department of Human Services and Minot State University.

That's almost a 20 percent difference from the perception among key community professionals involved in law enforcement, health, counseling, and treatment and prevention.

Of surveyed professionals, 62.2 percent ranked alcohol use by youth as a serious problem.

The disparity in perception is surprising and disappointing, said a Fargo-based treatment coordinator.

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"When we cheer on a team, go to a company Christmas party, we're surrounded by alcohol," said Robyn Litke, coordinator of the Safe

Communities Coalition of the Red River Valley.

The December 2007 issue of Men's Health magazine ranked Fargo as the fifth-drunkest city in America, earning the dubious honor of one of the "most dangerously drunk" cities from the magazine.

Litke said she knows

some people in the region

may view the ranking as "a bragging right."

For example, a Facebook group about the magazine's grade has 3,855 members, with posts asking, "How can we make Fargo #1?!"

"That is really indicative of how engrained this is in our culture, because it's so accepted," she said.

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"You will not find one person who says that they haven't been personally affected by this problem and acknowledge how grave the consequences are," Litke said.

The Community Readiness Survey, conducted in April, interviewed 14,400 adults, and 1,725 community professionals. The margin of error of the study is 10 percentage points.

"We're trying to get the temperature of a community to see how ready they are to make the changes," said Pamela Sagness, prevention administrator for the state Human Services Department's Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services division.

Community perception and readiness to address alcohol problems need to be periodically assessed in order to develop a comprehensive plan, according to a statement from the Rural Crime and Justice Center at Minot State University.

"This is not just for schools or for law enforcement," Sagness said. "It's something that we all need to work on."

She said survey sponsors were surprised by some of the perceptions, "but it's a good surprise," so professionals can begin beefing up prevention efforts.

In 2007, alcohol or drugs were a contributing factor in 598 car crashes, according to the state Department of Transportation. Sixty-three North Dakotans died because a driver was under the influence of alcohol.

"We're almost desensitized to those numbers," Sagness said.

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A report breaking down regional statistics will be released in late November, she said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Kim Winnegge at (701) 241-5524

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