Alcohol laws should be stricter

By By Alicia Williams

By Alicia Williams

Have you tried purchasing NyQuil lately? It’s like trying to sneak a gold bar out of Fort Knox. Going through the Walgreens drive-thru window at 11:30 p.m. to pick up some prescriptions with my coughing, aching, stuffy head, I spied the bottles of NyQuil sitting on the shelf. After asking the pharmacist to throw one in, I was promptly told that I would have to come in to purchase it because I had to swipe my I.D. and sign for it.

Needless to say, I was sick, it was late and I was in my pajamas and slippers. Why else would anyone be going through the drive-thru? The pharmacist apologized and said, “It’s a federal law.” I couldn’t believe the lockdown efforts that have been implemented on cold medicine. Yet, every day, underage individuals are purchasing alcohol undeterred. If society can monitor and control the sale of cold medicine products that might have potential to be made into something harmful, why doesn’t it implement these same practices on products that have been proven to be a threat to our youth?

According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s Web site, former President George W. Bush tacked on the Combat Methamphetamine Epidemic Act of 2005 into the Patriot Act of 2006 to establish a system of control over the sale of products containing pseudoephedrine, ephedrine and phenylpropanolamine, the ingredients meth addicts extract to concoct their drug of choice.

As a result, cold medicine products containing these drugs have been securely protected behind the pharmacy counter since Sept. 30, 2006. Buyers must show photo I.D., which is entered into an electronic log by swiping it into an identification scanner and recording your signature.

The fact is that alcohol is just as detrimental as meth. The 2007 Annual Report of the Division of Substance Abuse and Mental Health, by the Utah Department of Human Services reports that in 2007 the No. 1 substance abuse for men was alcohol at 35.7 percent, then methamphetamine 23.9 percent. For women it’s methamphetamine at 39.2 percent, then alcohol 23 percent. The two drugs together make up more than 60 percent of clinical admissions for both men and women.

More importantly, alcohol is the primary drug to which youth are first exposed. The annual report found 76 percent of people in treatment programs admit to using alcohol before they were 18, and 45 percent used illicit drugs. It also reported on a 2007 Utah Higher Education Health Behavior Survey of 8,384 college students attending our nine public institutions that 70.5 percent of college students under the age of 21 find it easy to get alcohol here.

Alcohol is truly a dangerous gateway drug, and the earlier the age at which it is first tried, the more likely it is that the individual will go on to experiment with more dangerous drugs. The annual report states, “Delaying the onset of use of any substance becomes a protective factor in helping to prevent abuse in later years.”

Alcohol is undeniably harmful to a huge amount of people, especially children. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism reports that 5,000 youth under the age of 21 die annually from injuries involving underage drinking. Obviously, there is an extreme need to lockdown underage purchases of alcohol products.

Utah’s Department of Public Safety advocates validating identification to fight fraud specifically targeting financial institutions and banks. For a monthly fee, these businesses can instantly search the official Driver License Division database to find out if the I.D. is valid. This exact form of electronic verification is being used in many states to combat underage drinking. Utah Public Safety should begin encouraging the use of its services for businesses that sell alcohol.

The new liquor laws passed by the Utah Legislature in March that go into effect on July 1 are weak compared to the strict federal cold medicine sales guidelines. Requiring bars to scan the license of anyone entering who looks younger than 35 is an improvement in the attempt to keep underage drinkers out of bars, but it still leaves it up to a judgment call. It also leaves out a large sector of alcohol sellers. Just like cold medicine, every alcohol purchase, whether in a bar, state liquor store or local market should require a swipe of I.D. and a signature.

The Combat Meth Act proves electronic I.D. scanning is not an unrealistic scenario. The state of Utah should implement these same standards for all alcohol products purchased, not just for people who look under 35 entering bars. Utah needs to do everything it can to prevent youth’s ability to use fake I.D. cards.

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Alicia Williams