The panel discussion, hosted by the Cambridge Prevention Coalition, a citizen policy group that aims to curb alcohol use among minors, emphasized the effectiveness of an approach using prevention and treatment, rather than enforcement and punishment.
Guests also discussed a bill pending in the Massachusetts legislature that would make it illegal for those under 21 to consume alcohol.
Danny A. Trujillo, associate dean for substance abuse programs at MIT, said that recent policy revisions have led to a 260 percent increase in the number of alcohol-related referrals to the college’s Office for Student Conduct in the past year.
These policies, which were created with the help of a student advisory board, focus on urging students and residential faculty to use referrals as a way to help someone with a drinking problem.
“We try to merge enforcement with an opportunity for screening and referral to resources,” he said.
He also described the problems created by recent trends in college-age drinking. Students now drink to get drunk more than they did 10 or 15 years ago, he said, which leads to practices such as “pre-gaming” or drinking before going to a party.
“Two to four students get together in someone’s room, they usually use hard alcohol, there’s often some sort of drinking game involved,” Trujillo said. “It’s very quiet, so it’s hard to detect it.”
David DeIuliis, the communications director for the state chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, promoted a bill currently before the state legislature that would make underage drinking a civil offense.
The incident would not appear on the offender’s criminal record, instead, the penalty would be a fine of $300 or attendance at a youth alcohol education program. Similar bills have been enacted in 37 states, and DiIuliis said the legislation has increased the willingness of police and courts to enforce underage drinking laws.
“No one wants to arrest someone and put it on their criminal record for going to a party and drinking,” he said.
The bill would also amend Massachusetts’ laws to make it illegal for those under the age of 21 to consume alcohol. Currently, it is only illegal for people under 21 to transport, possess, or purchase alcohol but not to consume it.
—Staff writer Virginia A. Fisher can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.