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‘If it can happen to Amanda, it can happen to anyone’

June 16, 2008

Patty Sterner spreads the word about the deadly effects of binge drinking

By Kristen Miller
Staff Writer

Amanda Jax from Watertown loved helping people and had just been accepted into nursing school.

Then, on the morning of Oct., 30 – after celebrating her 21st birthday, alcohol took her life.

Now, Jax’s stepmother, Patty Sterner, is hoping that Amanda can continue helping people through her story.

Sterner, a para professional at Dassel Elementary and a high school track coach, is speaking to anyone who will listen about the deadly effects of binge drinking.

“It happened to us, it can happen to you,” Sterner told the Cokato Dassel Rotary Club June 5.

Because alcohol has become so commonplace in today’s society, its risks have become overshadowed by the uses of other drugs such as marijuana and methamphetamine, Sterner explained.

“Alcohol kills more teens than all other illegal drugs combined,” she reported.

Sterner went on to explain that three teens die every day in the US from drinking and driving, and at least six more die from other alcohol-related causes.

According to the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University, among high school students who have ever tried alcohol – even once – 91.3 percent are still drinking in 12th grade.

In the same report, teen drinking is the number one source of adult alcoholism.

Along with this, children are twice as likely to develop alcohol-related problems if they begin drinking before age 21, and four times more likely to become alcoholics if they begin drinking before age 15, as opposed to those who do not drink before 21.

A fact Sterner can all too closely relate to, and many may not know, is that 1,700 college students die each year from alcohol-related causes.

“Unfortunately, [Amanda’s death has] opened our eyes. Nobody can afford to be naive anymore,” Sterner said.

Sterner is hoping to make people more aware and to eventually change public policy regarding alcohol.

Her goal is to have the legislature look at alcohol and drinking the same way it looks at cigarettes and smoking.

This would include limiting the amount of advertising and the glamorization that American culture has surrounding alcohol and the abuse of it.

Sterner pointed out how little Hollywood portrays alcohol and drinking in a negative way.

Movies and television shows don’t show the consequences alcohol abuse can have including minor consumption violations, legal fees, accidents, and DWIs.

An example Sterner gave was one “Friends” episode when Ross and Rachael got drunk and then got married in Las Vegas.

“That’s what our kids view as funny – not sad, not bad – it’s funny,” she said.

Sterner recently spoke to her church’s youth group about the dangerous effects of binge drinking.

One youth said, all it takes is saying no and not going to a party where there is alcohol, to which another replied, “We can’t all be perfect.”

“Saying ‘no’ is viewed as being ‘perfect’,” Sterner said.

Since Amanda’s death, two others died from binge drinking – a 16-year-old Mankato boy and a 20-year-old female who was attending Winona State University.

“Amanda was a good kid – these were good kids,” Sterner said.

“We can’t sit back and watch the news and think, ‘It’s not my problem, that won’t be my child.’ That was me a year ago,” she said.

Making change happen

After Amanda’s tragic and sudden death, Sterner began looking for ways to make change happen – ways to change policy regarding underage drinking and ways to change the public’s view of alcohol.

Sterner came into contact with Laura Lindeman from Meeker County Public Health who is chairman of the Underage Drinking Task Force, a subcommittee of Litchfield Area Rural Partners in Prevention (LARPP).

Members of the task force include community members, law enforcement, probation officers, and anyone who is interested in joining the team.

Lindeman explained there are several avenues the task force can choose to take including ways to discourage adults from providing alcohol to minors, make alcohol compliance checks mandatory, and spread the word of the dangers of alcohol.

Reviewing trends from the Minnesota Student Survey, Lindeman hasn’t seen an increase in the number of youth drinking, it’s how much they drink that has increased, she said.

Sterner showed the video, “This Place,” created by FACE, a non-profit organization that provides resources and training on alcohol issues.

According to FACE, drinking among youth today has dramatically changed from what it was 20 years ago for a number of reasons.

Some changes include potency and variety of alcohol products. Lindeman referred to “alcopops,” which are sweet-flavored alcohol drinks that appeal to youth.

Other changes include how much kids drink, frequency of their drinking, age they begin drinking, overall availability of alcohol, definition of a “drink,” and lack of parent and adult supervision.

Now, as a member of the task force, Sterner has chosen to speak to groups about this subject and is recruiting volunteers to join in the efforts to curb underage drinking and inform the public of the dangers and prevalence of binge drinking.

To request Sterner to speak, call (320) 693-5380.

“I will speak to anyone who will listen . . . if it happened to Amanda, it can happen to anybody,” Sterner said.

Do you know more about this subject, or have a comment? E-mail news@hjpub.com