Parents be warned: That bottle of perfume or cologne atop your daughter's or son's dresser might really be an adult beverage.
"The look and packaging of alcohol has drastically changed," said Corree Carelock, Keystone Substance Services' alcohol enforcement team coordinator. "Some bottles resemble cologne or perfume. Others are pocket-size versions of popular brands of alcohol."
Some of the drinks can fit into a small pocketbook, Jane Alleva, Keystone's community relations and prevention director, said.
"Not only are these pretty and tasty, but they are also cheaper than a soda or juice," Alleva said. "When it's cheap and accessible, they're going to drink."
That's not the route officials want to see York County teens go, especially as prom season approaches. Being proactive about underage drinking sets the stage for zero tolerance, not tickets or trips to jail.
From Oct. 1, 2007, to June 30, 2008, officials doled out 300 citations for underage alcohol violations. From July 1, 2008, to March 31, 289 citations have been meted out.
"If parents don't actively engage in conversation with their child before they walk out the door, then going to jail or getting ticketed is the least of parents' concern," she said.
Traffic deaths among teens are higher during prom weekends than any other time of the year, according to MADD or Mothers Against Drunk Driving. Of the 6,100 youth killed in traffic collisions in 2005, one-third involved alcohol.
Carelock and Alleva contend that stopping underage drinking, especially around prom and graduation seasons, starts with communication.
"A child's choice to drink is connected with the conversations that a parent has had or not had with their child," Alleva said. "Not talking to your child puts your child with all the negative consequences that come with underage drinking."
Those choices range from drinking alcoholic beverages, having sex and dealing with unplanned pregnancies to rape and other assaults, alcohol poisoning and alcohol-related accidents such as falling down steps and off balconies.
"The worse scenario is any parent who has to go to the morgue and identify their child," Alleva said.
And alcohol is at the root of at least one reality, Carelock said.
"Alcohol kills more youth that all other illicit drugs combined," Carelock said. "Parents need to know this because they can prevent it."
Those selling alcohol to underage youth also need a wake-up call. During compliance checks, some clerks and others who sell alcohol failed to recognize an underage drinker and subsequently illegally sold alcoholic beverages.
That move puts alcohol in the hands of those under 21.
Documents show that from Oct. 1, 2007, to June 30, 2008, York County law enforcement officials issued 357 citations at parties where alcohol was available. The period from July 1, 2008, to the end of last month shows that authorities issued 54 citations.
During the same time period, 559 compliance checks were completed at businesses that sell alcohol with authorities issuing 88 citations to clerks and others who illegally sold alcohol to those under 21.
This prom season, Carelock has a message for potential underage drinkers:
"There will be extra effort to enforce underage drinking by the Alcohol Enforcement Team," she said. "Our ultimate goal is to keep our youths safe and sober."