NEWTOWN - "Stop Underage Drinking Week" kicks off tonight with

a community forum on alcohol and the law. Police, politicians, parents and students will learn about the array of laws that govern alcohol and teenagers.


Gary Najarian , project director of the Connecticut Coalition to Stop Underage Drinking, will moderate. Alcohol-fueled teen house parties - and parents' responsibilities - are one of topics that will be discussed. Week of events "Stop Underage Drinking Week" in Newtown runs through Sunday. Events include: "It's Only Beer . . . Everything You Need to Know About Alcohol and the Law:"today from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. in the Newtown Middle School auditorium "Making Healthy Choices Health Fair:" Tuesday,from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Newtown High School
Newtown sixth-grade students will be writing letters to high school seniors expressing concern for the older students' safety and urging them not to use alcohol or drugs High school student peer educators from the "No Suds" group will visit sixth and eighth grade classes to talk about avoiding alcohol and drugs Live concert at the Newtown Teen Center , Church Hill Road Friday at 7 p.m. (open to Newtown Middle School students only) Adults who allow underage drinking to take place at parties held in their homes are subject to arrest, Najarian said. "Any adult who serves or provides alcohol to a minor other than their own child is guilty of a felony in our state," Najarian said. Parents who aren't present during an underage alcohol party at their house can also get in trouble with the law. "There have been cases where parents have been held accountable while they were away for something called 'failure to provide adequate supervision,'Ÿ" Najarian said. "If parents haven't done their best to ensure that young people are safe while they are away then they can be held responsible, sometimes criminally and sometimes civilly," he said. Parents also run the risk of lawsuits if underage drinkers are injured while at the house party, or if teens leave and crash a car because they're drunk. Newtown has a local law that levies a fine against adults who host underage alcohol parties on private property, which can include fields, barns and back yards. The rest of "Stop Underage Drink Week" will be geared toward telling students they don't have to drink or use drugs. Hence, the theme - "You Can Choose not to Use." Gloria Allred, community coordinator with "No Suds," also known as the Newtown Organization to Stop Underage Drinking Soon, said 60 percent of children between ages 12 and 17 do not drink alcohol. Students who start using drugs or alcohol early may be setting themselves up for problems later on. Allred provided information saying that adolescents can become addicted to alcohol much more quickly than adults. Allred said the remainder of the week will include events that will raise awareness about the dangers of underage drinking. For example, students entering the high school Tuesday will see a "chalk walk" as they enter the school. Chalk outlines of bodies will illustrate people killed by alcohol and drug use. Statistics will be written on the sidewalk detailing the dangers of underage drinking. Substance abuse among Newtown youth has been a pressing issue in recent years. A survey of 900 Newtown students in grades seven through 12, conducted two years ago by the
University of Connecticut Health Center School of Medicine , found that drug and alcohol use increased dramatically as students progressed into Newtown High School. For example, the survey found that 18.7 percent of seventh-grade students admitted drinking alcohol. The percentage of students drinking shot to 29.3 percent by the eighth grade. "By the time students were seniors, 84.3 (percent) had experienced using alcohol, 60.7 (percent) smoking cigarettes and 57.9 percent using marijuana," the UConn report summarized. It is a problem that isn't unique to Newtown. According to the Hartford-based Coalition to Stop Underage Drinking, Connecticut youth abuse alcohol more than the rest of the country.

Connecticut youth on average start drinking at 11 years old, two years earlier than the national average, according to the coalition. Tonight's forum on alcohol and the law is sponsored by "No Suds" and the Newtown Parent Connection. Featured speakers include Detective Sgt. Robert Tvardzik from the Newtown Police Department , high school members of the "No Suds" task force, First Selectman Herb Rosenthal, and several elected officials from the General Assembly, including state Rep. Julia Wasserman . "Many of us throw up our hands sometimes when it comes to underage drinking because the problem seems so large," Najarian said. "It seems like there is not much we can do. Weeks like this show us exactly the opposite."

Contact Eugene Driscoll at edriscoll@newstimes.com or at (203) 426-3711.