By RACHEL PARKER DICKERSON

LOG CABIN STAFF WRITER

Counseling Associates and its Drug and Alcohol Safety Education Program held a luncheon at Mike's Place on Friday recognizing law enforcement, schools and representatives of other programs that work toward reducing underage drinking in Faulkner County.

Carla Carlson, project director with Counseling Associates, said, "All these folks are involved in reducing underage drinking in the Faulkner County area, and this is our effort at recognizing them," as well as a chance for individuals to make contacts and interact with one another.

Counseling Associates provides DWI classes, which are mandatory when a person is convicted of driving while intoxicated.

Carlson said, "Counseling Associates has had that contract since October 1977 with the state to provide educational services for drug and alcohol offenders."

She continued, "Statewide there is a tremendous effort to reduce underage drinking, so Faulkner County has been kind of our focal point because of the number of college students. In the last six months, we have specialized our drug and alcohol programs to expand into special 12-hour programs specially designed to target underage drug and alcohol offenders. Those include DUI, DWI and minor in possession, as well as fraudulent ID."

Terrell Rose, DASEP state office program manager, said the evidence shows when an offender leaves the program, they leave with more information they came in with.

Mary Hairston, who has been with Counseling Associates 13 years and conducts classes for under-21 offenders, said the mission of the educational program is "To inform and educate drivers concerning the hazards and consequences of impaired driving and responsible decision making, motivate for personal change and contribute to public health and safety."

Hairston added, "It would be great if everyone got that education and it stuck."

She said when people come into the class, many are reluctant, but nearly everyone is positive upon leaving.

Mike Coats, owner of Mike's Place, said as a private club owner, he has many concerns about his guests' use of alcohol.

"We want our guests to go home safely. We want them to return. We don't want to serve anyone under 21," he said.

It is easy to limit how much someone has to drink, he said. The problem is knowing how much they have had before they arrive at the restaurant. All employees are trained to look for signs that a guest has had too much to drink, he said. Officers in uniform are also provided a discount to encourage their presence at the restaurant, he added.

Hairston said in the past 12 months, 850 people in Faulkner County have been found guilty of DUI or DWI, and of those, 132 were under 21. Out of the 132, 83 had blood alcohol content over .08, she said.

"They're not just sipping ... they're getting in there and doing some heavy drinking," she said.

Hairston added the numbers of underage offenders may be higher than the numbers she has available indicate. She said some underage offenders hire attorneys and are able to postpone their trial until they turn 21.

Carlson said she is also concerned by the number of repeat offenders under the age of 21.

Hairston said her efforts with the DASEP program to prevent underage drinking include presentations, going to health fairs, and presenting at community meetings and schools. She talks to children as young as fourth-graders about not getting into a car with someone who has been drinking, she said.

"I don't think you can start talking about it too early," she said.

(Staff writer Rachel Parker Dickerson can be reached by e-mail at rachel.dickerson@thecabin.net or by phone at 505-1277. Send us your news at www.thecabin.net/submit)