Andrew Dutler believes the answers to how to turn those numbers around can be found in the local communities.
Coordinating a new local grant, Dutler is seeking county residents who want to work together to address the underage and binge drinking issues.
Plymouth County was identified among the top 23 Iowa counties in terms of underage and binge drinking. That's why it was selected to receive about $250,000 in a three-year grant to help decrease those numbers.
Dutler was hired to by grant administrator Jackson Recovery to be Plymouth County's grant coordinator in July, and working with locals is at the top of his list.
"I'm going to be setting up a coalition that's going to be meeting here in Le Mars," Dutler said. "We're going to sit down and try to measure what some of the risk factors are in the county, and hopefully, at the end of the grant in three years, we'll be able to put some things in place to reverse or lower the numbers that we're seeing."
The coalition is essentially a brainstorming group, Dutler said.
They might look at situations like teenagers expressing there's "nothing to do" in a community or events in a community that have beer tents that are central to the event.
"Things like that advertise easy accessibility," Dutler said.
He said the answers the coalition will look for won't necessarily involve removing the beer tents or banning it from events.
"We're not trying to eliminate alcohol. Alcohol has been around forever," Dutler said. "We're trying to eliminate underage drinking and binge drinking."
Alcohol, he said has been viewed as a rite of passage, a way to have fun.
But studies have shown that the younger someone starts drinking, the more likely he or she is to develop alcoholism, he said.
"And it's OK for an adult to enjoy beverages, but studies show that after four or five drinks, their judgment can be lacking and they might do things they otherwise wouldn't."
For the coalition, Dutler is seeking people who are invested in the communities of Plymouth County. That can be everyone from people involved in schools and youth groups to law enforcement officers or health professionals to parents and students, he said.
They'll meet on a regular basis, maybe at noon once per quarter or once a month, although specific dates and times haven't been set yet.
"It is a way for a collective group of people that want to see a little bit of change in the community to try to start a little bit of a movement," Dutler said. "It's primarily going to be, 'OK, what did we identify in this meeting and how feasible is it that we get out and spread the word?'"
The coalition's ideas will also give Dutler direction in his daily work.
"I'm not here to push anything on people. I'm here to assist them in making Plymouth County better," he said.
Those interested in participating in the coalition can contact Dutler by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 712-234-2377.
Dutler is a 2007 University of Nebraska, Omaha, graduate with a degree in psychology. He grew up in rural Sioux City in Plymouth County.
After college, Dutler worked with low-income and first-generation students in the Sioux City area, promoting post-secondary education. He's also pursuing his master's degree in mental health counseling.
"I've always been in this line of work. I wanted to help people," Dutler said, adding that he's excited to start working with Plymouth County residents on the binge and underage drinking issues.
"I'm happy to be here to help," he said.