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WTOL 11 Special Report: Underage drinking in Ohio

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We hear all the time of teenagers using prescription drugs, snorting bath salts, and experimenting with ecstasy, but let's not forget what they're reaching for first. It's not cigarettes or marijuana, but alcohol.

According to a recent Mayo Clinic study, drinking underage is one of the most costly and deadly acts in the United States.

Last year, the US lost $53 billion because of underage drinking, and its effects on law enforcement agencies and hospital emergency rooms. But, as Jenna Lee uncovered in a WTOL 11 investigation, others are losing a lot more.

Throughout 2013, Ohio has made headlines surrounding teenagers and alcohol. The Steubenville rape case made national news after two football players were found guilty of raping a girl who was said to be drunk and unconscious.

In February, an Ottawa Hills boy died after a car crash that involved alcohol. The state is continuing to investigate.

Tomorrow (April 19), a local mother will be sentenced after she provided alcohol to teenagers during a house party. Several of them had to be taken to the hospital because of it. Underage, excessive drinking across the state of Ohio and especially in Toledo, keep police departments and local hospitals busy year-round.

Since 2010, alcohol-related visits have topped 1,000 in Ohio. Last year, cases jumped another 8 percent and are on track to break records this year.

Dr. Brian Kaminski of the Toledo Hospital says the figures are stunning.

"I think as a parent, I'm surprised," he said. "It hits home a little harder."

Hospitalization for underage drinking is extremely common in the United States, and it comes with a price tag.

The estimated total cost is $755 million a year.

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However, the statistics and figures pale in comparison to the number of teens who have died because of alcohol. Since 2007, 18 people have died, including deaths in Lucas, Hancock and Sandusky counties.

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The state's investigative unit is seeing the effects of alcohol first-hand, and at an earlier age.

"Painkillers, Percocet, Ritalin and Adderall… they're mixing pills with alcohol," said Ray Rodriguez, Ohio Investigative Unit.

The numbers woke up parent and resident of Fulton County, Lou Moody. She recognized the county's drinking problem among teenagers years ago. She's worked tirelessly with students and members of the community to decrease youth access to alcohol via Healthy Choices Caring Communities.

Through a health assessment, Fulton County learned 1/3 of kids aged 17 or 18 were binge drinking at least once a month. It's since been cut in half with the help of various activities and prevention programs.

"That's five or more drinks in one setting in a couple of hours," said Moody. "They're probably making horrible choices, as well as physically putting their body at risk." 

Dozens of students at Delta High School have formed a Youth Advisory Council to help combat the issue, not to mention educate, support and inspire others to live an alcohol-free lifestyle.

"You can have fun and you can have a good time without alcohol and drugs and all of that," said Matt Albring, sophomore.

"Sometimes it's easier for kids to hear from their own peers - this is what I stand for - maybe you should do it, too," said Emily Thomas, senior.

"Maybe they don't know there are other things out there that they can do, instead of drugs and alcohol," said Ellen Warfield, senior.

Students that are part of the council at Delta High School, and students at seven other school districts are joining forces to ensure there's one less headline, one less conviction, and one less life lost to alcohol.

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