Last January, my oldest daughter, Lisa Marie, was involved in an alcohol related car crash that killed her. Lisa grew up in a two-parent home where neither of us drank alcohol. Both my husband and I worked out of our home so we could be involved in our children's lives.
Lisa was an exceptional child. She was a bright, beautiful young girl who had all the potential and creativity to be happy and successful. She had many talents, including sports, dance and poetry. She excelled in school earning straight A's in Junior high school. She wanted to become a broadcaster or a journalist.
But, when she was 14 she tried alcohol at a friends house….which is how many teens are introduced to alcohol. It wasn't long before her behavior changed. She was moody, belligerent and irritable. Her grades started to fall. We soon recognized that she was becoming addicted to alcohol. We spent many months looking for counselors and treatment programs for her. What we found were long waiting lists for treatment. At one point we were told the only way to get help was to make Lisa's life so miserable that she would run away and could be arrested. Then she would be put into treatment right away.
We kept trying and eventually we did get Lisa into a treatment program. She did great the entire time she was there. But when she completed the treatment program she stepped right back into the same environment and was again bombarded with alcohol advertising - on TV, on billboards, in every magazine - glamorizing the use of alcohol. And a social norm that says teen drinking is a rite of passage. There was absolutely no aftercare support for Lisa or any other recovering teen.
My husband and I did everything we could, but Lisa still became addicted to alcohol. We've since learned more about alcohol and what it does to young people. We learned that what was happening in our family was being repeated in thousands of families across the state. In fact, we've learned that by the time kids are seniors in high school, nearly half (48.6%) drink alcohol regularly.
Young people who begin drinking before the age of 15 are 4 times more likely to develop alcohol dependence than those who begin drinking at age 21. If we keep young people from drinking until they are 21, we can reduce the number of adult alcoholics and problem drinkers. That's why prevention programs are so important.
My daughter, Jennifer, who is here with me today, helped to start a Friday Night Live Chapter in our community. Now she is the chapter advisor. And for the past four years she has also been a volunteer at a local prevention program called, Youth Advocacy Coalition. She was fortunate to become involved with a group of teens who did not drink and chose to help prevent the problems instead of being part of them. More of these programs need to be available to youth. We are lucky to have a prevention agency in our community. But these are the very programs that risk being cut in the current budget dilemma. Casey's Law will also help support these important prevention programs.
In San Diego County, where we live, alcohol and drugs services were cut this year by over seven million dollars. One million of that came from programs designed to prevent underage drinking. Our family spent thousands of dollars trying to help Lisa in her recovery. But, underage drinking costs Californians 6.5 billion dollars every year. And headlines remind us every day about the states' budget crisis. It's time for the alcohol industry to chip-in and help pay for the damage caused by underage drinking. Casey's Law will bring in money to help provide the support that young people need for recovery - in every county in California.
Lisa isn't the only young person who has died. In just one year, 198 young people, 15-20 year olds, were killed in alcohol-related crashes. My question to you is "how many more must die?" The time is now, the opportunity is before you…..do the right thing, please, vote yes on AB216.