By Kathryn Menue


BELVIDERE – On Tuesday, April 19, the Boone County Drug Prevention Coalition hosted a town hall meeting to inform parents and teens on the harmful effects of drug use and underage drinking in recognition of National Alcohol Awareness Month.

As attendees entered BNHS, they were greeted with the decorative artwork of the local middle school students who designed anti-drug, anti-smoke, and anti-underage drinking posters.

The meeting took place at the forum room in Belvidere North High School, located at 9393 Beloit Road in Belvidere. The meeting was held from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.

This was the coalition’s second town hall meeting, which was sponsored by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration (SAMHSA).

“The Forum…brings together community leaders and residents to discuss the problem of underage drinking in their community and work together to find solutions,” the coalition sited.

Kicking off the meeting, Ellen Genrich of the Boone County Health Department welcomed the nearly 50 community residents who attended the meeting and introduced the first speaker: Sgt. Gardner of the Belvidere/Boone County Metro Narcotic Unit.

Sgt. Gardner gave a presentation on signs of alcohol and drug use.

This presentation included statistics such as:

In 2012, 41 percent of high school seniors in the U.S. drank alcohol in the last month.

In Illinois, 47 percent of seniors reported using in the last 30 days and 35 percent of 15-year-olds admitted to having consumed alcohol.

Sgt. Gardner warned that signs a teenager is consuming alcohol include: poor academic/social behavior, changing of friend groups, activities/appearance changes, empty bottles in their room, scent of alcohol on their breath, slurred speech, blood shot eyes, and concentration problems.

His presentation also focused on the most abused drugs in Boone County, which include dextromethorphan (DXM-cough medicine), pharming, where teens raid medicine cabinets and take them to parties to mix and share, and heroin.

Heroin is on the rise in Boone County due to its close proximity with Rockford and Chicago.

“Almost all the heroin that comes to America comes to Chicago first and then it goes to the rest of the country from there. And we wonder why we have a problem,” Sgt. Gardner said.

Sgt. Gardner said the best way to prevent kids from beginning an addiction is for parents to be aware, listen, have a plan, and have consistency with rules.

“They [your children] don’t need another friend; they need a parent to raise strong adults,” Sgt. Gardner said.

After Sgt. Gardner’s presentation Mary Roufa, the Community Services Manager for Rosecrance, gave a presentation on the effects of drug use and early alcohol consumption on an adolescent’s brain.

She said the human brain does not fully develop until the age of 25, and the last part of the brain to fully develop is the cognitive region that focuses on problem solving and social skills.

“Drinking alcohol is particularly dangerous for teenagers because they are still learning how to make responsible decisions and alcohol impairs judgment.”

The younger kids are when they start underage drinking or using drugs, there is more of a risk they will become addicted and risk poor brain development.

Roufa said she’s seen 40 and 50-year-olds who are cognitively stuck in the adolescent phase of life due to their early onset addiction.

Boone County State’s Attorney Michelle Courier spoke next on the effects of underage drinking on families.

“They won’t get hurt if they drink at my house,” Courier said she’s heard a lot of parents say. In fact, this is a bad idea. “It’s a crime.”

Parents and teens can be charged, especially if teens leave the house and get into a car accident, or worse, injure or kill another person.

The parents who supplied the alcohol would also be liable.

“In 2010, underage drinking cost the state of Illinois $2.9 billion in legal costs, medical bills, and other funds that went towards the aftermath of adolescent alcohol use.”

Plus, Courier said “if you let a teen drink at your house, the more likely they are to drink somewhere else.”

The best way to prevent underage drinking is to not encourage it and to have teens be mindful of the truancy laws. Kids under the age of 18 must be home by 11 p.m. on weeknights and midnight on weekends.

Once Courier finished her presentation, she asked for Kelly Krenzer, of Alliance Against Intoxicated Motorists (AAIM), to come speak about her son Christopher who died in a car accident at the age of 20. He was hit by a drunk driver going between 90 to 100 miles an hour.

“It was something that was very hard on our family,” Krenzer said.

The next speaker, a recovering drug addict, spoke of her battles with addiction from the young age of 10, where she would do cocaine with her father, which later developed into a heroin addiction with friends.

Kristina Olsen, Prevention Specialist from Rosecrance, shared information on Boone County Youth Substance Abuse, where 8th, 10th, and 12th graders are surveyed every two years about their attitudes on substance abuse.

In Boone County, substance abuse from teens seems to come from a low perceived risk of harm, from lack of parental communication, from the attitude that it is a youth norm, from easy social access, and from high depression and bullying.

For more information on preventing drug and underage alcohol use, go to

About the Boone County Drug Prevention Coalition

The Boone County Drug Prevention Coalition was created in 2013. Since then, the coalition has expanded to span a community-wide front to prevent the usage of illegal drugs and to prevent underage drinking.

The coalition includes several businesses from the area, law enforcement, youth representation, recreational clubs, church organizations, media outlets, government officials and more.

Since the beginning of the coalition, they have showed initiative toward lowering excessive prescription drug use by opening a Prescription Drug Drop Box, courtesy of funding from CVS Pharmacy and Crime Stoppers. When it first opened, the drop box needed to be emptied every day. Now, the drop box collects about 25 pounds a week.

The coalition also receives funding from grants and fundraisers.

For more information, contact Kristina Olsen at (815) 387-2536.

About National Alcohol Awareness Month

For 28 years, National Alcohol Awareness month encourages communities and family units to “reflect on the societal and health effects of alcohol consumption and promote drinking prevention for adolescents.”

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