By Jon Ebelt 

State Launches New Program to Address Underage Drinking in MT


The Department of Public Health and Human Services (DPHHS) is launching a new program this month that aims to reduce the sale of alcohol to minors in Montana.

The Alcohol Reward and Reminder Program is an evidenced-based program developed to educate and/or reward local businesses for their efforts to keep alcohol out of the hands of minors. It’s part of a five-year grant recently awarded to DPHHS called the Partnership for Success Grant, which addresses the prevention of underage drinking among 12 to 20-year-olds.

“Underage drinking is a serious issue and I want to thank Montana businesses for being our partner in prevention when it comes to kids and alcohol,” said Governor Steve Bullock. “This program is designed to keep alcohol out of the hands of our youth and serve as positive reinforcement to local businesses for doing the right thing.”

The grant’s first phase includes the launch of the Alcohol Reward and Reminder Program statewide and on participating Tribal Reservations.

“Underage drinking is associated with a number of social and public health consequences,” said Jackie Jandt of the DPHHS Addictive and Mental Disorders Division. “Preventing access to alcohol is one approach to reducing underage drinking and just one of the many focuses of this grant.”

Here’s how the program works:

•Local retailers will be visited at least once a year by a team made up of a trained adult surveyor and a trained 21-year-old who looks underage.

• The 21-year-old will attempt to purchase alcohol without any proof of age while the surveyor observes nearby.

• If the clerk refuses the sale for not having any proof of age or any reason, the 21-year-old will leave the store and the surveyor will step forward and thank the clerk for checking IDs and not selling alcohol to kids. The clerk will be given a Reward Card to fill out and mail in for a chance to win a $100 gift card drawn quarterly.

• If the clerk does not ask for proper ID and appears willing to make a sale, the 21-year-old will NOT purchase alcohol but instead leave the store. The surveyor will then hand the clerk a Reminder Card that explains the potential legal consequences of selling to someone underage.

This program is similar to the already-existing Reward and Reminder Program that focuses on the prevention of the sale of tobacco products to those under 18.

“In Montana, underage drinking is a serious public health concern,” Jandt said. “Alcohol remains the number one drug of abuse for Montana’s youth.”

In fact, in 2012, results from the statewide Prevention Needs Assessment Survey of 14,575 students in grades 8, 10 and 12 revealed that 18.8 percent of 8th graders, 36.9 percent of 10th graders, and 49.5 percent of 12th graders had used alcohol within the past 30 days from when the survey was taken.

The trained survey teams will be community and prevention-minded adults who will be employed by the HELP Committee, which is contracting with DPHHS to implement the program. The teams are trained by HELP Committee personnel to follow a standard protocol approved by DPHHS.  The HELP Committee, based in Havre, is a community-based prevention organization.

Jandt said there will be 4,050 surveys completed every year during the five year grant period. The surveys are starting in November.

The Alcohol Reward & Reminder is just one piece of the $11 million Partnership for Success Grant and will cost approximately $95,000 per year to implement.


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