ODESSA, Texas (KMID/KPEJ)- Law enforcement agencies across Odessa, along with the City of Odessa, have teamed up to help keep graduating seniors safe this weekend. That partnership has also closed a loophole in the Social Host Ordinance passed by Odessa City Council five years ago. 

The Host and Accountability Ordinance holds adults accountable when they are caught hosting parties where alcohol is served to minors. According to Mayor Javier Joven, this year, during prom season, some parents found a loophole in that ordinance and teens were caught with alcohol in rented limos and party buses. Now, the City Council has closed that loophole by amending the ordinance to state that any adult renting a vehicle, such as a limo, for kids can also be fined if they provide alcohol to the teens in those vehicles. 

“As parents and grandparents, this weekend…comes with a lot of celebrations, but oftentimes, at the end of the celebration and the day after, countless times there’s been horrific tragedy. As a community we are being proactive…through swift action through the city council…we have closed that loophole,” Joven said.

Joven said he has also sent letters to the owners of vehicle rental companies in the area to make them aware of the change, and to ask them to partner with law enforcement agencies to help keep kids safe.

Sarah Henshaw is the Director of the Midessa Community Alliance Coalition, an organization that strives to prevent the illegal and harmful use of alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs; and according to Henshaw, parents who think they are providing a safe space for their teens to drink might actually be doing more harm than good

“Ninety percent of addictions are rooted in youth,” Henshaw said. “When you think you’re providing somewhere safe for them, you’re actually just contributing to the addiction problem.”

Henshaw stressed that sometimes, when people get addicted to drugs or alcohol as teens, it can take decades before they realize they have a problem. She said parents should never allow risky behavior, especially with the recent rise in teen overdoses now that fentanyl has made its way to Odessa. 

“There are overdoses daily,” she said. “It’s just not safe.”

Odessa Police Chief Michael Gerke echoed Henshaw’s fentanyl concerns. 

“Don’t drink and drive…don’t drink (at all) if you’re underage, but when you’re at these parties, if someone offers you a substance and you don’t know what it is, just turn it down. And call us and report it,” Gerke said. 

OPD first warned the community of an alarming rise in teenage overdoses related to fentanyl late last year after a 15-year-old boy overdosed and died after taking a pill laced with fentanyl,  a drug so deadly even skin contact can lead to an overdose.

Specifically, OPD said it had found a large number of pills, commonly referred to as M-30s, circulating in the community. But it’s not just those little round, blue pills that may contain fentanyl. Fentanyl has been found in marijuana, heroin, cocaine, and methamphetamines. The drug can cause difficulty breathing, low blood pressure, decreased heart rate, loss of consciousness, coma, or death.

“You’ve worked hard…your loved ones, your friends have supported you along the way. Don’t let this turn into a tragedy,” Gerke said, in a somber and serious warning to graduates. 

Ector County Sheriff Mike Griffis had a warning for teens and their parents as well. 

“Don’t be the cool parent and let them drink. It’s not worth it,” Griffis said. 

Griffis stressed that teens need to know the decisions they make while celebrating can have life changing consequences. 

“It’s not worth the fine, it’s not worth your safety, it’s not worth killing somebody,” he said.

This graduation weekend, officers with OPD, Ector County ISD, the Ector County Hospital District, as well as state troopers and deputies with ECSO, will be out in full force to keep drunk drivers off the road. They will also be responding to reported parties where underage people are drinking. Anyone with information on these parties is asked to call Crime Stoppers at 432-333-TIPS. 

Those caught hosting can expect a fine from $250 to $2,500, or even jail time. 

“If we come to your party and your hosting a party…we’ll take you to jail,” Griffis stressed. “We’ve got plenty of room in the jail…but we don’t want you there.”