As I look back at 2016, I realize I learned one very important lesson as the National President of MADD… getting ahead of the story makes all the difference in the world.
That was evident at the beginning of the year as the Ethan Couch drama swirled. Couch is the “Affluenza Teen” who killed four people, injured many and paralyzed another for life in a drunk driving crash in Texas. At 16-years-old, three times the legal limit of alcohol and with marijuana in his system, he destroyed lives and families forever. He received no jail time for his crime.
As the nation watched Couch’s blatant disregard for the law by fleeing to Mexico, they also watched you and MADD seize the opportunity to right the wrong. While I was in the media spotlight each day to explain our position, you were signing a petition created by MADD to change the outcome. The petition generated more than 50,000 signatures - 30,000 within 24 hours!
In less than 10 hours after sharing my open letter advocating for "Affluenza" teen Ethan Couch to serve 720 days in jail, the judge reaffirmed the adult probation terms and Couch received the sentence. While a woefully short sentence, it was the maximum that Texas law would allow at that point. However, Couch’s probation will expose him to the possibility of 40 years imprisonment in the future.
I saw a similar impact when MADD got involved in the Dylan Meyer drunk driving fatality case in Missouri. Another petition and my highly publicized letter to the judge helped put Meyer in prison on a 10-year sentence. I’ve also seen how getting ahead of the story has helped establish important legislation such as Noah’s law in Maryland and Annie’s Law in Ohio.
MADD’s voice is being heard. Your voice is being heard. And bringing our voices together, early and often, can create change.
So, don’t stop advocating for better laws.
Don’t stop remembering the victims, and don’t stop telling offenders that their excuses don’t work any longer.
Together, we can create a world where there are NO MORE VICTIMS®.
Mothers Against Drunk Driving applauds the recent landmark decision by Maryland Supreme Court, which advances the prevention of underage drinking by holding adults accountable for illegally providing alcohol to underage drinkers. MADD is proud to have filed an amicus brief in the Nancy Dankos, et al. v. Linda Stapf case, asking the court to hold adults liable for deaths or injuries caused by the underage drinkers.
The Dankos ruling is the result of a tragic case in Maryland that claimed the life of high school football star Steven Dankos, who, along with other friends, climbed into the bed of a pickup truck driven by an intoxicated driver. They had been drinking at a party hosted at the home of Linda Stapf. As a result, Steven’s mother sued Ms. Stapf.
The court’s ruling in favor of Ms. Dankos puts so-called “cool parents” on notice that they will be held morally, criminally and now financially responsible for the consequences of their actions. Not only does the court’s decision establish proximate causation when “cool parents” intentionally and knowingly allow children to consume alcohol on their premises, but it also removes any issue of contributory negligence on the part of the underage drinker. In other words, “cool parents” may be held 100% responsible.
There is a cultural shift occurring across the country that underage drinking is not cool. It was not cool that Ms. Stapf allowed children to get drunk in her garage. It was not cool that Ms. Stapf allowed high school football star Steven Dankos to get into the back of a truck with a drunk driver. It was not cool that Steven lost his life and Nancy Dankos lost her son at the young age of 17. This landmark decision in Maryland will save the precious lives of children across the country.
MADD will continue to advocate for the criminalization of actions by adults who provide or allow alcoholic beverages at events for underage participants. The 21 minimum drinking age is one of the most researched and reviewed public health laws in our country and has saved about 800 lives per year. MADD encourages all parents to support the 21 drinking age and talk to their kids about the dangers of underage drinking.
Let’s be clear however, underage drinking is an adult problem. In order for those under 21 to obtain alcohol, an adult somewhere must break the law. For parents who provide or permit underage drinking in their home, the case in Maryland and similar cases across the nation are stark reminders of the tragic consequences. MADD takes our mission to prevent underage drinking seriously. As this case reminds us, underage drinking is completely devastating and 100% preventable.
For more information on how to talk to your middle and high schoolers about alcohol, visit www.madd.org/powerofparents.
On Mother's Day weekend, 1996, Phaedra, age 22, a preschool teacher who had also done some modeling on the side, was enjoying a concert with some friends not far from her hometown. The two car loads of youth who were completely sober were driving home in Morgan County, Missouri, as a misty rain began to fall. Unbeknownst to them, a drunk driver with a .08 BAC was heading their way as he crossed the center line of Highway 5. Phaedra's friends in the car in front managed to see him in time to swerve. The drunk driver clipped them and headed straight for Phaedra's car. As he topped the hill around a curve, she had no warning and he hit her nearly head-on.
Phaedra's injuries were numerous and life-threatening. At the hospital, doctors discovered that the impact of the crash had ripped her aortic valve from her heart. Most people would have died within minutes, but Phaedra had not. In an emergency surgery to repair it, surgeons struggled to stop the bleeding. They quickly realized that she would bleed to death on the operating table if something wasn't done immediately. So, to save her life, they cut off the blood flow to her lower extremities to slow the bleeding enough to make the repairs to her heart.
She spent 3 weeks in a coma and 5 1/2 weeks on life support before waking to learn that the decision to save her life had cost her the ability to walk. In addition, she also had plates in her arm and both legs due to both ankles, a left femur, and a right forearm being broken. Her pelvis had been broken on both sides as well as 4 ribs. Both lungs had collapsed and her liver had been lacerated. Her gallbladder, appendix, and spleen were damaged and all had to be removed.
Phaedra's son was 4 years old at the time of the crash. She missed his first day of kindergarten because she was still in the hospital. As he grew up, someone else taught him to ride a bike, played in the ocean waves with him, and rode roller coasters with him while she sat on the sidelines and cheered, quietly wishing she could be the one beside him.
In 2000, Phaedra began working for MADD Missouri. She became a Victim Specialist helping other victims by providing emotional support and guidance through court proceedings. In 2010, she was crowned Ms. Wheelchair USA, again bringing awareness to the dangers of drunk driving by choosing it as her official platform. In 2012, she moved to Tennessee as the Underage Drinking Specialist for the MADD Tennessee state office. She built the program up from a presence that was non-existent to the top program in the country, talking to thousands of teens annually about the dangers of underage drinking and sharing her story with kids, parents, and DUI offenders.
Phaedra's original scars may have healed, but the impact of a DUI crash lasts for a lifetime. With no spleen, Phaedra is more susceptible to illness and her immune system is unable to fight simple infections. An ear infection can end up in a hospital stay. Independent and resolute, Phaedra drives, works full time, and is now the mother to an 8 year old daughter, as well as her grown son and step-daughter. People are amazed at how she lifts her wheelchair overhead, in and out of her car, and is not deterred from anything she sets her mind to doing. However, her determination takes its toll on her body. She recently had to have surgery on her arm because a problem with one of the plates had caused a fracture in her arm. Because she is constantly lifting her chair and transferring herself in and out of it, the injury to her arm caused a significant hardship on her ability to proceed with life as normal. And because of her immunity problem, the healing process was also complicated.
But those who know Phaedra, know that despite the lifelong affect drunk driving has had on her life, the thing that stands out most about her is her positive attitude. She never waivers. For years, she has fought to serve others who have been impacted by the crimes of drunk and drugged driving and underage drinking and to spread awareness about their dangers by sharing her story. She is an inspiration to all! And she will continue to fight until MADD fulfills it's vision of No More Victims!
Many teens are not aware of the serious risks drugs and alcohol poses to their health, to their success in school, and to their future. So the question is: What can communities do to effectively educate this generation of teens about drug abuse?
One way is for school staff, parents, and students to work together on awareness events that will provide teens with the facts about drug use. National Drug and Alcohol Facts Week (NDAFW) is a national health observance designed to arm communities with the materials and tools they need to influence teens to say no to drugs. Inspired by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), part of the National Institute of Health, NDAFW is in its sixth year and will be held from January 25 through 31, 2016.
"This week is designed to counteract the myths teens have about drug abuse, often reinforced by their peers, the Internet, and the entertainment industry," said NIDA Director, Nora D. Volkow, M.D. "When given the facts from people they trust, teens are in a better position to make good decisions about drug use.”
All around the country, science teachers, health teachers, guidance counselors, social workers, drug prevention programs, and community support programs are using the science-based information available FREE from NIDA in their curriculum, school assemblies, PTA meetings, and evening workshops to get the truth out. In some cases, local research scientists and government officials can be invited to participate in these important events.
This year, NDAFW is expecting more than 1,700 events with every state represented. These events range in size and scope, but they are all focused on educating and communicating with teens about drug and alcohol use and its consequences. NIDA staff can provide ideas and information to help make an educational event successful.
Some event ideas may include:
• A school assembly
• An addiction-themed art contest
• A graffiti fact wall
• A trivia night
• A panel discussion with local law enforcement, substance abuse counselors, and individuals affected by drug abuse.
• A government proclamation.
By: Brian Marquis, Public Liaison Officer, National Institute on Drug Abuse
New alcohol advertising guidelines, based on findings by researchers at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, could dramatically reduce the number of alcohol ads viewed by children – if advertisers follow them.
The new report, published in the January issue of the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, found that our youth were exposed more than 15 billion times to alcohol ads on television – mostly on cable networks – between 2005 and 2012.
That means that about one in eight alcohol commercials were seen by children. No, make that absorbed by children. Not to mention these occurrences were already not in compliance with the alcohol industry’s previous self-regulatory advertising guidelines.
These commercials painted a picture of alcohol as fun and frivolous that children couldn’t help but take in, sending a dangerous and deadly message to our kids. Have no doubt, these ads played a role in shaping attitudes toward drinking and contributed to the number of underage drinkers and underage drunk drivers.
Underage drinking kills more than 4,300 people under the age of 21 annually, making it one of the top three leading causes of death in this age group. Study after study (14 reports, in fact) have concluded that alcohol advertisements play a role in the decision to drink by kids. It makes them more likely to drink and, if people under 21 years old already drink, it makes them more likely to drink even more.
The paper also outlines new standards for ad placement, often called a “no-buy” list, which would address almost all non-compliance issues – if advertisers chose to follow them more closely than the previous guidelines. These guidelines won’t end underage drinking, bottom line, but the new recommendations will have an impact if advertisers see the sense and cents in following them.
MADD’s Power of Parents® program gives parents the tools to start ongoing and intentional conversations with their kids about alcohol. If you see one of these alcohol advertisements on a program that your child watches, take the opportunity to have a discussion with them about the real consequences of drinking underage. If you need help getting started, download our parent handbook for tips and tricks on tackling this difficult subject at home.