This is the time of year when many teenagers celebrate important milestones like prom and graduation. While we want our children to enjoy these occasions, we also have an important responsibility as parents to ensure their safety. As District Attorney and chief law enforcement officer, I would like to share my concerns about drug and alcohol use and suggestions for fun, safe and lawful celebrations. This important message was also included in a letter I sent out recently to high school principals in Westchester County.
Underage drinking and drug use remain a problem here in Westchester County despite our efforts to deter these behaviors. Research tells us that teen drinking and drug use are linked to risky behaviors including driving while intoxicated or impaired by drugs, sexual abuse, suicide and death. Federal statistics show that car crashes are the leading cause of death among people ages 15 to 20, and nationwide each year, 1,900 lives under age 21 are lost in car crashes involving underage drinking. Proms and graduation parties are occasions where drinking and drug use often occur, and we as a community must do more to keep our young people safe.
Keep in mind if you are planning to host a party at your home that, under New York State law, any person who gives, sells or causes to be given or sold any alcoholic beverage to someone under the age of 21 faces possible prosecution for endangering the welfare of a child, unlawfully dealing with a child, and for violations of the Alcohol and Beverage Control Law. These laws apply not only to a host parent but also to any teenager age 16 or older, so be sure that any party at your home has appropriate adult supervision. And for your child’s safety, I urge you to ask other parents who are hosting parties whether there will be suitable adult supervision at their events.
Because medical emergencies can arise suddenly when teens are drinking or using drugs, be sure you and your child understand the importance of calling 911 to seek help immediately. There have been reports of drug and alcohol overdoses in Westchester where others present have failed to call for help, fearing they would face criminal charges for a drug or alcohol offense. New York has enacted a ‘Good Samaritan’ law that offers protection from prosecution for drug or alcohol offenses for most individuals who seek emergency medical help for themselves or another. Even before this law was enacted, it was my policy to take into account in a criminal case the actions of an individual who seeks assistance for someone in such an emergency. Our number one priority is to keep children safe.
To educate our young people about the danger of alcohol and drug use and to encourage safe choices, Assistant District Attorneys from my office routinely conduct presentations for students and parents on this topic. We have participated in presentations for students and parents on prom and party safety that are now required by many high schools throughout the county. Keeping our young people safe is a community effort. I urge you to share this column with your son or daughter, and plan with them to ensure that they enjoy the important celebrations in their lives in a safe and responsible way.
For more information about the work of the District Attorney’s Office, please visit www.westchesterda.net ; for more information about teen drinking, please visit the Federal Trade Commission site www.dontserveteens.gov.