By Jen Kastner
ODESSA- An underage drinking town hall meeting was called on Saturday at Medical Center Hospital to talk about the alarming number of teens in the Basin who are drinking and abusing drugs.
Eighth grader Austin Velasquez lives in McCamey. He says several of his classmates have already fallen victim to alcohol and tobacco.
"What I've noticed is that is all they really like to do and that's just not me, you know," Velasquez said.
Velasquez says it has to stop. He and a number of other teens sat in on the town hall meeting.
Speakers from the key agencies like the Department of Public Safety and the District Attorney's Office dove into reasons behind the teen drinking problem in the Basin. At Medical Center Hospital last year, roughly 75% of the kids seen in the emergency room were under the influence of alcohol or drugs before coming in.
With so many drunk or high teens seen in the emergency room, the community says this is an issue we need to pay closer attention to.
Mellessa Brenem is with the Permian Basin Regional Council on Alcohol and Drug Abuse. She says, "Today we're hoping to get a teen leadership program implemented maybe through the court system. We're looking for someone to really step up and put this together and staff it."
It's a 12-week program working wonders in Midland. Now, Odessa wants it.
Ector County Assistant District Attorney Scott Layh says, "Our society has snowballed to allow the convenience of drinking and the acceptance of drinking- not just with adults, but also with children."
County health rankings released this month show Ector County is still above the national average when it comes to excessive drinking.
Layh is part of a child fatality review team. He says, "there was definitely alcohol involved in several of the deaths we've reviewed."
Brenem says, "When you ask kids why they're drinking, most of them say there's nothing to do. In this community there are lots of things to do. [It's all about] being involved and having family involvement."
As part of the awareness campaign, a youth leadership coalition called X-Out has been formed. It's comprised entirely of teens wanting to help other teens.