Some parents protecting underage drinkers in Edina

Binge drinkingIt used to be Edina parents would willingly let police officers in when they responded to a noise complaint due to a house party.

But now, parents stonewalling police officers to protect teenagers participating in underage drinking has become commonplace.

“I just don’t get it,” Police Chief Jeff Long said.

When officers were called to a house for a noise complaint, parents used to say “absolutely” and let them in to kick the kids out, Long said.

“This is definitely something new in the last five years,” he said.

It’s common now for officers to be told by the adults at the house that they need a warrant to enter the house instead of inviting them in. That puts Long in the position of deciding whether to put the manpower into obtaining a warrant. By the time officers have a warrant, people may be sobering up and or have disposed of the alcohol, he said.

The amount of drug use and alcohol use by teenagers has increased in Edina, reflecting what is going on in society as a whole, Long said.

It’s not only occurring in Edina – Hennepin, Ramsey and Anoka counties have had a jump in heroin-related deaths, to which Edina hasn’t been immune.

What it comes down to is a combination of parent complacency and parental fear of liability.


Heroin use

Suburban parents say they can’t believe a child could become a heroin addict, Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman Lisa Kiava said.

But heroin addiction often starts with prescription drug addiction, which is an epidemic, Kiava said, adding that there’s been a spike in Adderall addiction recently in Hennepin County.

People, especially middle school and high school students, take Xanax, Percocet, Oxycontin and Adderall, mind-altering substances, obtaining the medications from the medicine cabinets of friends and family.

“The alarming trend, especially in our area, is an increase in the use of prescription pills,” Edina Officer Brian Hubbard told a Edina High School Parent Council forum crowd in November.

Hubbard, who is EHS’s resource officer, said it’s alarming for a number of reasons, including the fact that prescription pills are readily found in homes.

By the time they run out of the prescription pills, they’ve gotten hooked and need to buy more. But they find that heroin is cheaper to buy than prescription drugs, Kiava said.

The Twin Cities has some of the cheapest heroin in the country and it also has a high purity level, Kiava said.“There’s a great risk of accidental overdose and death.”

The number of heroin-related deaths in Hennepin, Ramsey and Anoka counties jumped from 16 in 2010 to 46 in 2011, according to medical examiner reports. Twenty-one of the deaths in 2011 occurred in Hennepin County. The number of deaths in 2012 hasn’t been released.

Edina had not had a heroin overdose until the last couple of years, Long said. The city has had an increase in heroin use, he said. In the last couple of years, Edina has had two heroin-related deaths, both teenagers who were students at Edina High School.

The city doesn’t keep track of the number of overdoses where death didn’t occur.

“It’s a young people’s drug that they’re using now,” Long said.

Long said police believe the heroin is being brought into Edina rather than sold in the city because not enough of the population is using it.

Minnesota Teen Challenge, a Minneapolis nonprofit that offers addiction treatment and drug counseling, has also seen an increase in heroin addiction.

Kiava suggests residents should keep prescription medication in a secure location and monitor the supply. Residents selling their homes should also protect their prescription medications because people attend open houses to find and take prescription medications. Elderly residents should be cautious of relatives who continually show up when a prescription is filled, she said.

The Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office set up a medication disposal drop box at the Southdale Library in September. It’s doing well and the county appreciates that residents are disposing of their medications properly, she said.


House parties

Edina mothers Karen Beese and Ann Satterthwaite have both had the experience of being unaware drinking was happening at parties thrown by their teenagers at their houses.

They shared their stories at the EHS Parent Council forum in November in hopes it would educate other parents.

Parents think that it won’t happen to them, but it does, Beese said.

In Beese’s case, her college-aged daughter had a party at the house while the rest of the family was at the cabin. Police showed up at 3 a.m., and her daughter was arrested for underage drinking and ticketed for violating the open house ordinance. Her daughter refused to let the police in.

“In one minute, I’m mad at them and then another minute, I’m grateful for them because they did keep the kids safe,” Beese said.

Satterthwaite was continually checking on a party full of high school students at her house. But she didn’t realize the girls at the party had small bottles of alcohol hidden in their purses until another mother told her afterward that she had heard there was drinking at the party. It was a lesson learned for her, she said.

Parents aren’t letting officers in because they fear the consequences of the open house party ordinance, Long said. He said he understands that parents are afraid of the liability, but it doesn’t help a juvenile for the parents to protect him or her.

Violating the ordinance is a misdemeanor. But if an underage person who was drinking leaves the house party and causes a death or serious bodily harm to someone, it raises it to a felony level, he said.

In one case in Edina, a juvenile ran out of a house party without her shoes  when officers arrived. It was winter and by the time officers found her, she had to be transported to the hospital with hypothermia, Long said.

Contrary to the myth, Edina police officers aren’t out searching for parties to break up, he said. They only respond to a house if there’s a complaint. Often, the complaints come from a teenager inside the house, he said.

How teenagers communicate about parties has also changed the nature of parties.

“To me, what has changed from all of our times, is if I had a party and wrote a note to somebody and you told everyone that you knew, and that’s how the word got around to maybe 45 people, if we were really lucky. Now I pop it on Facebook, and now the entire city of Edina and Richfield and Eden Prairie know that this party is going on,” Hubbard said.

While the house parties are going on, parents rely on their children to be the bad guy and kick people out of the party if necessary, Hubbard told the crowd at the forum. But that’s impossible for the child to do because of peer pressure, he said.

Satterthwaite suggested greeting each person at the party and bringing food and drinks in throughout it to keep an eye on the attendees.

“My kids have thanked me for being at the party because they didn’t have to be the bad guy,” she said.

A parent needs to be supervising, telling people they don’t belong at the party, Hubbard said.

“It’s alarming to me how many house parties we go to that are ‘supervised’ and there are kids all over the place, coming out of windows, running through the backyard. And I go to make contact with an adult, and the adult is probably more impaired than many of the students that I will come in contact with,” he said.

In a suburban area like Edina, it’s known that alcohol and marijuana is used among high school students, Hubbard said. But the most recent self-reporting Minnesota Student Survey shows staggering numbers for Edina, he said.

The survey is completed every three years, with the next one being completed this year, and the numbers are likely lower than reality because it’s self-reporting, he said.

Fifty-six percent of 12th grade boys and 50 percent of 12th grade girls reported drinking alcohol in the past 30 days, according to the 2010 survey. The 12th grade average for binge drinking – having more than five drinks at a time – was 40 percent. The state average is 24 percent.

“That should be a concerning statistic for a community like Edina,” he said.

In a January report, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention said binge drinking among high school girls is flying under the radar in the U.S. and suggested it be considered a women’s health problem. Excessive alcohol use results in about 23,000 deaths of women and girls a year, according to the CDC.

Forty-one percent of 12th graders reported using marijuana in the past year. The state average is 31 percent. Hubbard said it’s equally alarming that 12 percent of ninth graders in Edina reported using marijuana in the past year.

“Our numbers, I would argue, are substantially higher,” he said.

He said he has a hard time believing 50 percent of Edina’s 12th graders have had alcohol and the parents aren’t aware at some level of the drinking.

“What becomes concerning to that is, I believe we’ve become complacent in either ‘We did it’ or ‘Kids do it, it’s part of what they’re going to do,’ and we allow it to be acceptable behavior,” he said.

People need to work together to combat underage drinking in Edina, Long said, adding, “Underage drinking is illegal.”


Contact Lisa Kaczke at [email protected]