Two points were made about underage drinking in Union County during a May 14 forum hosted by the Union County Drug Free Coalition.

Two points were made about underage drinking in Union County during a May 14 forum hosted by the Union County Drug Free Coalition.

Those are:

* Parents have significant influence on young people's decisions about alcohol consumption.

* Advertising for alcohol is everywhere and is geared to catch the attention of youth.

However, few were on hand to hear those points made. Approximately 25 people attended the forum, a low turnout deemed "disappointing" by Marysville Mayor John Gore and Shawn Sech, director of health education for the Union County Health Department.

"Whenever you hold an event such as this, you hope everyone would want to come and the room would be filled," Sech said. "Even as we were planning the event, we knew we were up against potential warm weather and spring sports."

Sech said while alcohol is the No. 1 drug used by local students, alcohol use does not have a high level of perceptive concern.

"As a coalition, we know alcohol use is going to be our most difficult issue because alcohol is legal for individuals over 21 years of age and preventing use takes a cultural shift -- which is not easy to come by, nor does it occur quickly," she said.

According to the Substance Abuse Mental and Health Services Administration, more than 80 percent of children say parents are the leading influences in their decisions to drink or not. Yet more than 40 percent report their parents seldom or never talk with them about drugs and alcohol, according to the Union County Youth Risk Behavior Survey.

Clinical director Brad Lander from Ohio State University discussed the effects of alcohol on young developing brains. Teens who drink alcohol before age 15 are four times more likely to become alcohol-dependent when they are older than those who wait until age 20, he said.

"If you wait until your child is 14 or entering high school, you have missed the boat," Lander said.

According to the Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth, the average age at which an adolescent takes that first drink is 13.

The coalition surveyed Union County youths last year and surveyed parents last month.

Among the findings:

* Approximately 70 percent of adults said they are "very concerned" about youth substance abuse in Union County, but only 23 percent of respondents felt that it was the most important substance to address locally.

* 50.1 percent of students indicated that they get alcohol from friends or peers.

Marysville Mayor John Gore, who attended the forum, said he was caught off guard by the other source of alcohol for local teens.

"I was surprised to find out the number of parents involved -- 30 percent of the alcohol is provided by parents," Gore said.

The survey also found that local youths are most likely to consume alcohol at a house party.

Marysville Deputy Police Chief Bo Spain said this backs up what police see.

"When we run into it, it's usually at a house party," Spain said of teen alcohol use. "We're not seeing as much of it in cars like we used to."

The Youth 2 Youth group, part of the Union County Drug Free Coalition, surveyed local grocery stores, gas stations, pharmacies, drive-throughs and restaurants.

The group found that many of the advertisements at these local venues used things that appeal to young people, such as animals, bright colors and sex. Y2Y believes the community as a whole needs to pay more attention to what young people are seeing and the messages they get from advertising.

"You're combating a billion-dollar industry," Spain said. "I was surprised at some of the marketing. But I also know it's there. They're there to make money."

With only 25 people in attendance at the forum, Gore said he is concerned the community may not be getting the message.

"I was disappointed at the turnout. The Drug Free Coalition tries very hard to educate the community and they offer a lot of good information. I thought this was as well-advertised as any event they had," Gore said.