by: Mark Becker Updated:
RALEIGH, N.C. - The chairman of North Carolina's ABC Commission says it is time to address the problem of underage drinking before it claims more victims.
"We've got to change in culture in North Carolina over a period of time that it's not right to drink under 21 years of age.
It will hurt your child," Jim Gardner told members of the Governor's Collegiate Wellness Task Force in Raleigh on Wednesday.
The task force is a group that included ABC and ALE agents and police from 11 campuses in North Carolina.
Gardner made his remarks during a round-table discussion aimed at curbing underage drinking, which is a problem that he says costs the state $1.5 billion and dozens of lives each year.
"We know that this is a big problem," Gardner said, adding that changing the culture that says drinking on college campuses is an acceptable right of passage will not change overnight.
"We know this is going to take 10 to 12 years," he said.
Gardner crystallized the problem by reading from a WSOC Web story about alleged hazing at UNC Charlotte.
The incident occurred at a fraternity campout where pledges were told to drink beer and hard liquor, and one of them did not wake up in the morning.
"When they got the pledge to the hospital his blood alcohol was 0.42," Gardner said. "Why he wasn't dead I don't know.
"That could have been tragic, spending a week in the hospital," said UNC-Charlotte Police Chief Jeff Baker, who said the Montgomery County Sheriff's Office is investigating the case and could file criminal charges.
The task force is recommending a number of changes including enforcing existing laws more aggressively, and passing new laws to hold people who supply alcohol to underage drinkers more accountable.
They are also hoping to put together a marketing campaign on social media aimed at the teenagers who face the problem head on.
The task force plans to have initiatives in writing by the end of the year, and to go to the Legislature in May to ask for funding for those changes