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A new survey released this week shows that 86 percent of Santa Monica youth find it “somewhat” or “very” easy to obtain alcohol.

The survey of underage drinking is part of the Westside Impact Project, an effort to reduce alcohol-related problems in Santa Monica, led by the Institute for Public Strategies (IPS). Through an assessment effort conducted by IPS’s evaluation partner, Harder+Company Community Research, nearly 200 surveys were completed in July 2015 by Santa Monica teens and young adults, ages 16 to 20.

The findings showed that, in the past year, more than half of the teens surveyed attended at least three house parties where alcohol was available; 37 percent had at least one drink in the last 30 days; 15 percent reported binge drinking (five or more drinks within two hours) at least one day in the past month; and almost a third (28 percent) of those who have ever used alcohol report blacking out at least once.

“The reality is underage drinking is truly a problem across the country,” Sarah Blanch, director of the Westside Impact Project, said. “It’s concerning, and I think most people would be surprised at the percentage of youth that, not only are they drinking frequently, but the data show that a lot of times when they drink it’s in the form of binge drinking.”

However, Blanch said that the project wasn’t surprised to see the statistics.

“We do have comparisons with our numbers and statewide, but in general Santa Monica does have higher rates, which is not surprising in some ways. It’s a beach community, there is a lot of really easy access.”

National and local research studies published by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the Journal of Studies on Alcohol have repeatedly identified house parties as the primary source from which minors obtain alcohol.

“Experience has shown us that house parties provide our youth with easy access to alcohol. These findings help clarify what steps we as a community need to take in order to prevent our kids from engaging in harmful behavior, which oftentimes leads to negative social consequences,” stated Sgt. Rudy Camarena of the Santa Monica Police Department in a press release.

The survey also concluded that alcohol use is highly correlated with risky behaviors, such as driving while under the influence, getting in the car with someone who is under the influence and buying or selling alcohol on school grounds.

Dana Sherrod, prevention coordinator for the Westside Impact Project, found the easy access teens have at house parties, as well as the correlation between alcohol and marijuana usage, the most concerning findings.

“A common concern with house parties and teens accessing alcohol is that adults may believe it is a controlled environment,” Sherrod said. “But even if there are parents home that doesn’t completely mitigate the danger … What was most surprising was that alcohol and marijuana use is directly correlated. That other substance abuse is taking place makes for a really volatile mix.”

According to the Westside Impact Project, one strategy to keep alcohol away from teens is social host ordinances, which assess administrative fines, combined with high-visibility enforcement, to deter potential hosts from providing a venue where alcohol is available to minors.

“Communities across California and the U.S. have passed social host ordinances to reduce underage drinking and, more specifically, the incidence of house parties,” said Blanch in a press release.

To date, more than 150 cities or counties and 24 states have adopted social host laws, including many throughout Southern California according to Mothers Against Drunk Driving.

Social host ordinances have demonstrated positive results. Redlands, California, a similar sized city to Santa Monica, saw its police calls for service related to house parties drop by a third after passing and enforcing a social host ordinance, according to the Redlands Daily Facts.

“We want to be shining a spotlight on what youth are saying and that there are strategies such as social host and a range of community level strategies that can reduce underage drinking,” Blanch said. “There will always be underage drinking, but our goal is to reduce it. And we think it is possible if the community comes together and cares about it enough and rallies behind some possible solutions.

To learn more, contact the Westside Impact Coalition at (310) 215-9924, westsideimpactproject.org or by email at impact@publicstrategies.org.

jennifer@www.smdp.com