With North Dakota having one of the highest rates of underage drinking in the nation, various organizations in the community are coming together to find ways to lower the number of youths using alcohol.

The Substance Abuse Mental Health Services Administration, an agency of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, monitors underage drinking throughout the country. Their data from 2016-2017 shows the percentage of people ages 12-20 who used alcohol within a month. North Dakota’s rate was 25.3% and beaten only by Massachusetts, which had a rate of 28.7%.

Currently, community organizations are operating under the Partnership for Success grant to reduce underage drinking, for which they were tasked with looking at four areas -- retail availability, social availability, enforcement and community norms.

“One was retail availability, which means our kids getting their alcohol mostly from retailers, like going in and being able to buy it or some liquor store handing them stuff out the back door because they know they’re underage, which we didn’t find to be the biggest problem in the southwest region,” Goyne said.

Compliance checks could address retail availability.

“We go in with a minor to attempt to buy or purchase alcohol to check their compliance to see if they’re following the ID rules about carding,” said Brandon Stockie, school resource officer with the Dickinson Police Department.

Goyne detailed some of the criteria for determining whether or not to utilize compliance checks: the number of liquor establishments in the community and how long it has been since compliance checks were done.

“We have a high amount of (liquor establishments), but no compliance checks being done, so we’re concerned that if they don’t get done again, people become complacent,” Goyne said.

Community Action used to do compliance checks, but that stopped for complicated reasons. Goyne was not involved, but related the issue as it was related to her.

“From my understanding, compliance checks had been done and there was an establishment that failed for the second or third time, which would have required them, I believe, to close down for one day,” she said. “That establishment disagreed and took it to somebody with the city commission at that time. The city commission decided to look at the ordinance and the way that compliance checks were done.”

Now the Dickinson Police Department is planning to partner with Southwest District Health Unit to resume compliance checks, as they already partner for tobacco checks.

Goyne said it can be a challenge to find minors willing to participate.

“What the challenge has always been is to find youth who are willing to do it that kind of fit that age group that they don’t look too young, but they don’t look too old … I think Brandon Stockie’s idea now is to use kinda 18, 19, 20 year olds. You don’t want to go too much younger because they feel like it’s kind of a set up,” Goyne said.

Additionally, Stockie said patrol staff performs bar checks.

“That’s when they go in bar in uniform. They do it randomly on their shifts at night to check for minors in bars, minors on premises,” he said.

Southwest District Health Unit, as previously reported by The Press, also provides ID scanners for use by organizations and businesses in the area to help them identify fake IDs and IDs of minors.

The biggest factor to the prevalence of underage drinking in North Dakota seems to be a cultural one.

“The second area we were to look at was social availability, and this is the one that was highly identified by our stakeholders as saying kids are getting alcohol from older adults, whether it be parents or siblings, uncles, cousins, grandparents (or) other adults who will just buy it for them,” Goyne said.

Goyne said they want to educate families about the dangers of providing alcohol to their teens.

“We have to kind of deviate from the thought (that) we’ll provide the alcohol for them, we’ll keep them in our home, and we’ll keep them safe. You’re still giving them alcohol, and it’s still illegal,” she said. “You may think you’re keeping them safe because they’re not on the road, but what about those that maybe consume too much (and) combine it with something else? They fall asleep, and they don’t wake up.”

A related area they were to examine was community norms — to what extent is drinking part of the culture in the area.

“When you talk to people who have come from other states, they’re always very surprised that alcohol is a big part of almost every activity that is held, or every community event, or a family event. It could be a graduation. It could be a funeral. It could be a wedding. It could be roping. It could be branding. It could be — somebody has even said wedding showers, baby showers. It might be a community dance,” Goyne said.

She said they’re trying to change the culture.