SHERIDAN — Underage drinking, adult binge drinking, tobacco use, suicide and opioid abuse are major concerns within Sheridan County.
Sheridan County Prevention coordinated three separate meetings in two days to discuss the state’s mandated plans in combatting these issues. The state Legislature provided each county in Wyoming with grants of varying amounts to asses problems within their own communities. The goal is for each county to present a strategic plan for prevention 90 days after discussion.
Ann Perkins, the community prevention manager of Sheridan County, conducted a set of interviews with local law enforcement about prevention efforts to see if Sheridan has the capacity for coalitions.
Perkins also asked attendants at the meetings on Wednesday and Thursday what they thought were the biggest issues within the community and how to address them or if there were any successes in prevention.
“Alcohol is the main contributor and is most present in situations that result in someone going to jail,” Perkins said. “And about 70 to 80 percent of arrests in Sheridan involve alcohol.”
Perkins said out of all of the counties in Wyoming, Sheridan has the highest percentage of DUI cases, and although Wyoming is a relatively safe state in regards to crime and felonies, the high percentage of alcohol and arrests associated with the substance represent a real threat to public safety.
Alcohol is cultural in Wyoming. Statistics showed parents in Sheridan County provided alcohol to 22.75 percent of middle-schoolers compared to the Wyoming state average of 14.3 percent. At the high school age, parents provided alcohol to 26.45 percent compared to the state average of 15.8 percent.
Larissa Bonnet, director of campus life and housing at Sheridan College, said the college avoids having students 21 and older who are living in the residential halls mixed with students who are underage. Sheridan College is not a dry campus — students older than 21 are allowed to have alcohol within their residence, however, there are only three options of what they can have — a six-pack or pint of beer or a bottle of wine. Because of policies Bonnet and Sheridan College put in place in the last few years, there has been a change in drinking culture and a decrease in alcohol-related incidents on campus.
“I get students who are over the age of 21 asking if they can live with underage students. It’s fine, however, I make sure they understand the consequences if they’re caught hosting a party with underage kids or not securing their alcohol,” Bonnet said. “If someone underage got ahold of their alcohol even if they didn’t know it, it is still their responsibility and they will still face consequences.
“Because of that, we educate our students a lot on alcohol use and sobriety.”
College students attend many events that serve alcohol, such as the softball tournaments that sell beer to patrons. However, as many alcohol-related events occur for college students, there are also around 400 alcohol-free events that Sheridan College hosts for students, Bonnet said.
Bonnet introduced the idea of TIPS University, a program dedicated to educating college students about underage drinking and trains servers and bartenders to not over-serve customers who may be intoxicated. Perkins said it is important for anyone to learn to say no to someone who needs to be cut off from drinking.
“They have specific programs for alcohol prevention throughout the program,” Bonnet said. “I brought a TIPS trainer to Sheridan and it’s how the police department got involved.”
Perkins and Bonnet agreed learning to be a bystander upstander, or a person who witnesses substance abuse and speaks up, is important in preventing irresponsible drinking.
“These programs actually work in decreasing alcohol-related incidents and also help to educate people,” Bonnet said. “We may never be able to change the culture of Wyoming and its drinking habits, but we can at least provide resources to a majority of the community in how to practice prevention.”