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Students Target Underage Drinking

Sticker program aims to curb underage possession of alcohol.

Although it was 9 a.m. Saturday morning, several Madison High School students sacrificed sleep for a good cause.

The students were all members of Students Against Destructive Decisions, or SADD (formerly known as Students Against Drunk Driving). And over 30 of them participated in "Project Sticker Shock," a pilot program in which students place stickers on packs of beer and wine coolers, to remind purchasers of the consequences of purchasing alcohol for underage drinkers.

"It's all positive. It's for a good cause, to help kids stop drinking," said Madison sophomore Adam Parsell.

Affiliated with the Virginia Alcohol and Beverage Control Board, the sticker program is the first in Northern Virginia. Six Vienna stores were targeted in SADD's December run, and the group hopes to target in the spring all Vienna stores that sell alcohol.

"It's a pilot program to see how the community is going to act, and hopefully it will open our eyes up to something," said John Lingenfelter, SADD adviser and assistant director of student activities.

The sticker program wrapped up Alcohol Awareness Week at Madison, which was held Dec. 3-7. Earlier in the fall, Madison High School junior Chris Haden, 16, died in a car accident in which speed and alcohol were factors.

"We decided to step our effort up and do something right away," Lingenfelter said.

The stickers remind would-be purchasers that supplying alcohol to a minor can have fines up to $2,500 and a year in jail.

In Vienna, most underage drinking arrests occur at parties. From January of this year to Dec. 9, Vienna police arrested 127 people under 21 for underage drinking. Thirty-seven of those arrested were under 18 and were charged with being drunk in public and illegal possession of alcohol. Seven more were charged with driving under the influence.

For those between 18 and 21, the police charged 82 people will illegal possession of alcohol and charged one person for using a fake ID. One adult was also charged with purchasing alcohol for minors.

"A lot of times, we get loud-party calls," said Vienna Police captain Johnny Price. Price also said some arrests occur on town streets. "When you smell the odor, you got the person," Price said.

Boredom and peer pressure are among the factors cited in contributing to underage drinking, according to a survey conducted by the national SADD office in Massachusetts and the Liberty Mutual Group. Interviewing 1,800 middle- and high-school students, the national survey reported that drinking increases significantly between sixth and seventh grade, with another spike between eighth and ninth grade. By 12th grade, more than three in four teens are drinking and sexually active, and almost half report using drugs.

"In the Northern Virginia area, it's a very big problem. Kids have a lot of money, they're grown-up for their age," Lingenfelter said.

After meeting in Madison's cafeteria, students were divided into four teams. They headed to Giant, Safeway, Eckerd Drug, CVS, Rexall Drug and Magruder’s to start placing stickers.

"We're not trying to say don't buy alcohol. We just don't want people to buy it illegally and give it to kids," said sophomore Katie Davilli, as she was putting stickers on cases of beer at Safeway.

Down another aisle, senior Mary Ann Kearney was "stickering" packs of Coors Light. She was team coordinator for the Safeway run, and freely gave stickers to the other students.

"Hopefully, people will realize the importance of not buying alcohol for minors," Kearney said. "And besides that, it's against the law. Minors shouldn't have alcohol in the first place."

When asked about how often students talk about drinking at Madison, Kearney said alcohol abuse exists, as it does at other schools.

"It goes on a lot in high school, not just Madison. It's a regional and national problem," Kearney said.

Parsell, who was stickering nearby, agreed, adding that Madison students frequently talk about drinking.

"I hear it all the time. Every weekend, at least," Parsell said.

Although minors get alcohol at parties, it's often their older brothers, sisters and friends who provide them with the beer.

"Especially as the holiday season is going on, it's not difficult to get alcohol," said Diane McKenney Eckert, who accompanied the Madison students to Safeway. Eckert is involved with the Vienna-Madison Community Coalition, and is a program development specialist with the Safe And Drug Free Youth Section for Fairfax County public schools.

Because adolescents' brains are still developing, they are especially susceptible to alcohol addiction, Eckert added.

Students used as many of the 10,000 stickers as they could, hopeful that their message aimed at adult purchasers of alcohol would be effective.

"It's not an anti-drinking sticker, it just tells the law," Lingenfelter said. "And hopefully