ELIZABETHTOWN Its a pervasive problem in Essex County, but one often left unspoken about alcoholism in youth. At the Essex County Public Safety meeting April 14, District Attorney Julie Garcia presented the annual report of the Bringing Essex Countys Strengths Together (BEST) Partnership. The BEST Partnership was formed after a 2006 study of Essex County youth in grades 8-12 showed the extent of underage drinking in Essex County was nearly three times the state average. The student responses showed a high propensity for binge drinking, drinking at home, and attending school events under the influence of alcohol. This is not a small problem. Underage drinking in Essex County is a major problem, said Garcia. The group, comprised of representatives from the Essex County Youth Bureau, Cornell Cooperative Extension, Essex County District Attorneys Office, New York State Police and the Essex County Prevention Partnership started a collaborative effort in 2007 to assess the cause and effect of underage drinking as the Underage Drinking Task Force. By June 2007, the group adopted their mission formally and became the BEST Partnership. As of 2008, 24 different organizations were members of the team. The reason we developed the BEST Taskforce is this is a community problem it has to be addressed from the community, said Garcia. This is a report I'm not proud of we can do better, but we have to try as a team. The group seeks to reduce the incidences of underage drinking by bringing the community and agencies together to raise awareness, increase education and enforcement, and to address attitudes and environments that foster underage alcoholism. Working with the team has helped focus attention on the underlying reasons for underage alcoholism. Garcia said part of the cause was that in the past, its been socially acceptable to be drinking underage. Doug Terbeek, a member of the Prevention Team, said that over the past 20 years, his organization has been examining rates of underage drinking. Its not just about youth, but about families, communities and schools, said Terbeek. Terbeek said that delaying the initiation of alcohol use was very important, since the younger youth start to drink, the more likely they were to become alcoholics. Adolescent alcohol usage is also connected to smoking and other drug usage. What's happening is when kids are starting to drink as teenagers, they're growing into alcoholics, said Garcia. Underage drinking contributes to intrapersonal problems, family dysfunction, problems with school conduct, delinquency and sexual activity. Supervisor Thomas Scozzafava (R - Moriah) wondered if changing the drinking age from 18 to 21 had been a factor in creating the underage drinking culture. He said more research into that needed to be considered. (Im) not advocating changing the drinking age, but its an issue that needs to be considered, said Scozzafava.