Teen Drinking in Orinda

Lauren Stewart

I learned one of my biggest lessons on May 23, 2009 during my sophomore year. My best friend and a friend to the entire community, Joe Loudon, passed away at a party that night around midnight.

Though his death was not due to alcohol consumption, alcohol was in the house and many guests were drinking. Due to underage drinking those fearful of prosecution were reluctant to call the police in time. The police were eventually called but it was too late for Joe, who was rushed to the hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

Joe had just turned 16 on March 4 and three short months later his life was ended because we failed to call for help.

Losing a friend is one of the most traumatic events one can experience. Iwant to inform future grades ahead that calling for help is not something to hesitate about. As the class of 2011 graduates, the memory of this mistake will fade and I feel a responsibility to do my part and pass on my knowledge to the future students of Miramonte. Another student loss, due to hesitation or a lack of understanding on how to handle alcohol-related situations, cannot happen again.

Another close friend of Joe Loudon shares my concerns; it is important that nobody forgets Joe and that they hold on to the lesson his death taught us all.

“You’ll never understand what its like to lose a friend until it happens,” said senior Chris Worthington, “and no amount of trouble should keep you from making the right choice.”

It’s fair to say that the class of 2011 never wants to hear of another death due to hesitation at Miramonte or anywhere else in the Lamorinda community.

In our alcohol awareness classes we should be taught about what to do in life-threatening situations related to alcohol.  I didn’t learn about the signs of an intoxicated person until it was right in front of my face. This left me with my gut instincts and sometimes that isn’t enough. As young adults we need to learn the signs of when professional help is necessary and what to do in those situations.

The Healthy Kids survey of 2009 showed that 16% of freshmen have consumed alcohol four or more times. For juniors, 42% have consumed alcohol four or more times, 16% one to three times, and 42% have never consumed alcohol. For the class of 2012, an half the number of students either don’t drink at all or drink too often for it to be considered casual drinking or experimenting; 50% do and 50% do not.

Telling students to never drink isn’t the solution. The community should focus more on educating students about the consequences of extensive alcohol abuse, knowing limitations, and understanding how to deal with alcohol related situations. Another Mirador writer, news editor Caroline Cook wrote an article discussing the necessity of the 911 immunity law becoming active in California. As a small community, it is important for parents and upperclassmen to be not only role models, but also educators. The mistakes made in 2009 should not be forgotten and the lesson should be passed down for all other generations to learn from.

The 911 immunity law put into effect on January 1, 2011 gives you protection from conviction and the ability to save a life. When faced with this situation a second time I didn’t hesitate. This law has already enabled Miramonte students to call for help. If you ever have a thought in your mind that your friend needs professional attention, make the right choice  and call for help.

Most importantly, generations after the class of 2011 must remember Joe and the lessons we learned after his death. I never expected to lose a friend in high school, even after hearing similar stories from graduated Miramonte students. Sadly, nobody thinks it will happen, until it does.
Don’t let trivial things like getting grounded worry you, if you see anyone for that matter, in need of professional assistance in an alcohol related situation.  If the consequence is a death of a peer, don’t be ignorant; please call for help; you’ll be happy you did.

I cannot begin to describe in words what it feels like to lose a friend in high school.  What I can do is urge everyone, those going to college and those continuing their high school education, to be aware and be smart. It would be absolutely heart breaking to hear of another loss after what we have all experienced with the loss of Joe. We owe it to Joe and to his family to never let a tragedy like his happen again.

Police Chief Jeffrey Jennings Discusses Teen Drinking

Q: How many parties have you broken up this year?
A: During this year, there were only three parties we were aware of where two kids were sick and taken to the hospital. However we were only notified about the kids going to the hospital while they were en-route.
Q: How do you tell if the party really poses a threat to safety?
A: If we see any large amounts of alcohol and no parent is present to talk to, that’s when we go in, break it up, and call parents. Our main goal is to make sure you guys grow up to be healthy, smart adults, thats why were hand out citations; we want all of you to make it home safely and to ensure that parents need to be called.
Q: What do you think of the 911 immunity laws and have they helped with people calling more for help?
A: We haven’t recieved any calls directly, for both cases where teens were sick EMTs arrived and took the kids to the hospital before we were notified. However I do think it has the potential to save lives. We need to get the information out to the kids and parents so they can feel more comfortable calling for help.
Q: What are the concerns about teens drinking?
A: The main concern is your safety. We aren’t trying to ruin the party; we just dont want to even think about having to perform CPR on a child. We are all parents here and the thought of having another child’s life in our hands is terrifying.
Q: Do you think the drinking age of 21 is appropriate and why?
A: The fact is  that it’s not going to change, however I do think its approprite. Teens today seem to go to parties to get trashed where as when I was a teen my friends drank more socially. We’re concerned with how wild things have gotten and how much alcohol teens are consuming on a weekly basis.

After the questions police chief Jennings and I continued our conversation more casualy about the facts of teens partying where he said, “Theres a big fraction of parents that care and want their kids to be safe and informed about drinking but not all parents do a good job of being the best friend and remembering that they are the parent”.

Chief Jennings plans to make an ad of some kind  to better inform the parents and students of the Lamorinda community about the 911 immunity laws.

Seven Tips for Party Safety

1. 24 Hr. Dispatch: 925-284-5010 911 actually directs your call to highway patrol so use the 24 Hr. number for local emergencies   and try to use a land line if there is one close by.

2. Passing out is not a joke- If you cant get a person to sit up and talk, call the police. If you are uncomfortable making that call in an open setting, step into the bathroom alone; say your name, location and that there is a person who is unresponsive and you don’t feel say stepping forward but want someone to come.

3. Slumped but able to mumble if prompted- what do you do?-
An ambulance should be called right away. Most importantly, they can’t drink any more because you don’t know how much they’ve had. If they’re breathing less than 12 times a minute, call the police. If they can’t be woken up, call the police. If they’re snoring, this can be a symptom of airway obstruction. They need someone to stay with them for at least four hours. If nobody can do that, the authorities need to be called.

4. Drowsy and puked on themselves- what now?
Puking up or inhaling vomit can kill you. Puking down on yourself means you are medically unable to protect your airway. This is the sign that the person vomiting cannot be left alone. Rolling them on their side so they can’t inhale their vomit is the best thing to do but that does not mean the person should be left alone, until they are completely sober. No one can really tell how bad the situation may get until it starts to get better. If the situation continues to worsen call the police.

5. Watch the person, not the drinks- Every person has a different tolerance to alcohol. Two-shots could be nothing to an experienced drinker but to someone who has never had a drink; it could be enough to kill. Don’t dismiss warning signs because you or someone else believes the person hasn’t had “enough” alcohol to cause a problem. It’s very important to pay attention to how the person is acting rather than how much they have had to drink that night.

6. How vulnerable is this person?-
Leaving someone who is clearly drunk but possibly “shake-awake-able” is not okay. Assess the situation and if it seems like they could take a turn for the worst, call 911.

7. It takes a community-
If you’re a parent or neighbor, you need to be in control. The best thing for neighbors to do is walk over and ask to speak with the party host. Let them know that you’re concerned and want to help if he/she feels like their house party has gotten out of hand. If at any point you feel the situation is getting worse, call the police.