NEW FAIRFIELD - Before Christmas, town officials want to formulate a plan to combat underage drinking.

About 10 town officials and a few parents met Tuesday afternoon at the town library, where they discussed the importance of addressing the issue and what different groups around the community can do. "We clearly need this in the community," said
Candace McCann , director of pupil personnel services and special education for the New Fairfield school district. "For a number of years problems have occurred with (underage drinkers at) house parties . . . New Fairfield has seen tragedies and I am delighted we can come together and address it." Gary Najarian , director of the Connecticut Coalition to Stop Underage Drinking, talked about strategies some other towns have used and how to organize a plan of action. "The issue of underage drinking is complex and large," he said. He talked about getting support from students who are on the high school student council or involved in the area's Students Against Drunk Driving; getting teachers and administrators to educate the community and teens about the effects of drinking and involving hospital officials who could host health fairs on how drinking can affect people's health. He also suggested getting parents involved by urging them to talk to their children about drinking. New Fairfield First Selectman Peggy Katkocin believes parents need to be involved. Those students who are uneducated about the dangers of drinking are the types who get to college and end up binge drinking with a funnel in their mouth, Katkocin said. Selectmen
Ron Oliveri said "without parents' support, this can't work. Najarian said if a parent allows their child and other teens to drink at their home, then teens may wonder why they have to comply with other laws. A lot of parents host house parties, and teens believe house parties, where parents take away keys so no one drives drunk, are safe, said Sharon Shea , of the New Fairfield Substance Abuse Prevention Council . But what they don't think about is how drinking can affect their health. "Dealing with the here and now is most effective" when it comes to talking with teens about drinking, Shea said. Najarian said the hardest group of teens to reach about the negative effects of drinking are those who drink occasionally, but have never had anything bad happen to them. These teens don't see anything wrong with drinking. He believes that a community should not rely on just one strategy like passing an ordinance; rather there should be multiple strategies. Some officials are thinking about doing a training session in January on how to implement strategies to combat underage drinking. Officials could then apply for a grant with the
Connecticut Office of Policy and Management to help implement the strategies. As far as the state goes, for the past few years the Connecticut Coalition to Stop Underage Drinking has introduced a bill that anyone who hosts a house party for underage drinkers will get fined and anyone who is underage at a party will also get fined. Thirty-nine towns in Connecticut have passed a similar ordinance. The state bill has not been brought up for a vote because of time restraints and other issues. But Najarian feels good about this spring's legislative session, where the coalition will bring up the bill again. He knows in past sessions some 100 legislators were in favor of the bill. Consistency in nearby towns is important, said Najarian. If teens see that one town has an ordinance and another town does not, they just go to the town with no ordinance to have a party. With momentum for an action plan in full force, Régine Lambrech , chairwoman of the New Fairfield Youth Commission , is looking into planning a retreat for officials. "This is the catalyst and we need to follow up," said Lambrech.

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