Question of the Week
September 20, 2004


Up until recently, almost everyone has been in denial.

"Until the 1990's, deaths due to alcohol poisoning were largely ignored by the media. Families who lost a child due to AOD (alcohol overdose) suffered in silence. College campuses, where a great many of the deaths occurred, sought to avoid adverse publicity. Death certificates said 'cardiac arrest' or 'asphyxiation.' Medical examiners sometimes chose to tell a grieving family, 'It was a freak accident,' rather than 'Your son/daughter drank him/herself to death.' In 1994, a Federal law was passed requiring colleges to publish all student deaths. Finally, these tragic AOD stories are in newspapers and on national television; stories like the one about a 16-year-old cheerleader in Illinois who died after drinking a bottle of schnapps on a friend's dare."

This denial has led to generations of ignorance. Those choosing to try alcohol, as well as their friends and family members, don't always realize how severe the results of the experimentation might be--until it's too late.

"Families learn, in the most difficult way, that alcohol can be a lethal drug. Teenagers are particularly vulnerable to AOD [alcohol overdose]. Of the first 8 cases RID [Remove Intoxicated Drivers] discovered, half were 16 years old or younger. At least half were first-time drinkers and had never been drunk before. Five were put to bed by friends or their own parents to 'sleep it off,' only to be found dead in the morning. Their friends or parents didn‚t know that if a person drinks too much alcohol quickly before falling asleep, the alcohol will shut down breathing and heart functions and kill a person within a few hours."

Ignorance of the fact that alcohol is a poison that can kill in one binge has taken another life. The recent death of a Colorado State University (CSU) sophmore has made national headlines.

"Reports show someone was keeping an eye on Spady and thought she had just passed out Saturday night. The Poison Control Center suggests that if someone passes out, someone watching them should check and make sure they can wake up. If they don't respond to a slap in the face, call 911."

While alcohol affects the body more severely when it is mixed with other drugs, it can be fatal all by itself.

"Police suspect Samantha Spady, 19, died from an alcohol overdose. Two newspapers have reported she had a blood-alcohol level of 0.43 percent, but coroner's officials have not confirmed that figure. ... In high school, Spady was involved in the DARE program as well as being cheerleading captain, senior class president, homecoming queen and a member of the National Honor Society."

This event has been a wake-up call for Spady's friends.
This event has also given CSU a wake-up call.

"Spady's death came as a shock to many of her friends and peers, who just began their fall semester. ... 'We must be
dedicated to take the necessary precautions so that a tragedy like this will never happen again,' another student said, crying during the vigil. ... Spady's former sorority sister at Chi Omega huddled together and tried to sing a song in memory of her but tears overtook them before they could finish. School flags will fly at half staff for three days to remember Spady."

This is not how anyone planned to start the new semester. While it touches the students personally, even the administration is taking it seriously.

"Following the death of a female student and two off-campus riots, Colorado State University officials on Thursday said alcohol sales for most of its football stadium would be suspended until at least Feb. 1. University President Larry
Penley halted the sales at Hughes Stadium until a task force examining alcohol issues among students releases its report, expected early next year. Alcohol will still be served in premium club-level seats. 'While there are no simple solutions to this issue here or anywhere in the country, we are sincere in our desire to address the issue of substance abuse head on,' Penley said."

The police are also taking it seriously. Police Wednesday cited 19 men and women for providing alcohol to minors. Two weeks earlier, off-campus parties erupted in mayhem on two consecutive nights. Rioters overturned cars, uprooted signs and threw eggs, rocks and bottles. Six people were arrested; the university expelled seven students."

What about where you live? In a letter to the campus community, the president of CSU wrote:

"As you all know, Colorado State is not alone in dealing with the issue of alcohol abuse. The 'Snapshot of Annual High-Risk Drinking Consequences,' from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, provides some jarring information:
* 1,400 college students between the ages of 18 and 24 die each year from alcohol-related unintentional injuries, including motor vehicle crashes.
* 500,000 students between the ages of 18 and 24 are unintentionally injured under the influence of alcohol.
* More than 600,000 students between the ages of 18 and 24 are assaulted by another student who has been drinking.
In light of this reality, I urge you all to join me in talking about the issue of alcohol abuse, to examine what you as an individual might do to take responsibility for your actions, and the actions of others, and to work together to deal with this pressing concern on our campus and around the nation. The tragic news over the weekend requires that we, as a community, examine our programs, policies and culture, and do what is necessary to create the safest learning environment possible, and I look forward to working with all of you to achieve this goal.
Larry Edward Penley"

CSU has been given a graphic example of the need to deal with alcohol as a serious problem, but it is not just a serious problem for them. If you drink, or if you know someone who does, then you need to know:

"The more you drink, the more damage is done. You can get alcohol poisoning if you drink too much. As the level of alcohol in your blood rises, the chemicals in your body can cause vomiting or seizures, or you may pass out."

"Signs and symptoms of alcohol poisoning (ethanol overdose) include:
* Mental confusion
* Vomiting
* Seizures
* Slow or irregular breathing
* Bluish skin color or paleness
* Unconsciousness"

"According to a federal survey, 2.6 million teenagers don't know that a person can die from an alcohol overdose. (Center for Substance Abuse Prevention, 1996) What do students in your school know about alcohol poisoning?"
(At this site you can find a short--6 question--quiz to help your students see how much they really know about the
effects of alcohol.)

After seeing how much they know (or don't know) about what alcohol can really do, students can get excellent information on topics ranging from "Mechanisms of alcohol poisoning" to "Bystanders (friends, parents, strangers)
have a responsibility" at this next website.

"The following information literally saves lives. It could save a friend or maybe even you. Teens pictured in this piece died from alcohol poisoning."

Questions of the Week:
CSU and other schools across the country have been rudely awakened to the serious problems alcohol can cause. What will it take for your community to "examine [your] programs, policies and culture, and do what is necessary to create the safest learning environment possible," as the CSU president is asking those in his community to do? What will it take for you and your friends to see binge drinking and alcohol poisoning as a threat to health and safety--even as a threat to life? What about your school? What about your community? Will it take a personal tragedy, or can you learn from the mistakes of others and use these facts to educate those you know and love--even to prevent more deaths?

Please email me with any ideas or suggestions.
Note: Due to increasing amounts of SPAM sent to this account, please include "QOW" in the subject line when sending me email.

I look forward to reading what you have to say.

Health Community Coordinator
Access Excellence @ the National Health Museum

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