Archive for March, 2007

New Jersey Tragedy

Friday, March 30th, 2007

This past Wednesday Rider University student Gary Devercelly slipped into coma after reportedly consuming three-quarters of a bottle of Absolut vodka. He was found unconscious after suffering cardiac arrest. According to school officials, Gary was resuscitated through CPR by EMTs and rushed to a local hospital, where he remained in intensive care unit through the night. This morning, Gary, at the age of 18, died.
Though tragic, the event was typical in far too many ways.
Gary was a freshman, and a pledge for the national fraternity Phi Kappa Tau. The Wednesday night party, though not registered with the college as required, was reported to have been a step in the pledge process. Campus officials report that the event did not explicitly involve hazing; however, the difference between being forced to drink and being pressured to drink here seems negligible. The fact remains that students were serving students in a drinking environment beyond the reach of parental, administrative, or legal authority. Consequently, the drinking that occurred was extreme, dangerous, and in the end, deadly.
Since Gary was 18 this is a case of underage drinking. Perhaps more importantly, it was what everyone likes to also call binge drinking. . . but what is the connection between the two? This case of binge drinking, like most others, occurred behind closed doors, and off campus. There were no bartenders to cut-off the obscenely drunk from drinking, or any role models for responsible drinking behavior. In short, the drinking was fueled by the fact that irresponsible drinking become the normative drinking behavior.

One Trenton newspaper reports that Gary was a member of Students Against Drunk Driving. And yet, that knowledge, that membership did little to prevent the tragedy with which we are faced now. Drunk driving and binge drinking are two equally important consequences of irresponsible drinking. However, until we realize that prohibitory-style laws that seeks to limit college-age drunk driving merely increase binge drinking, today’s tragedy will not be an isolated incident.

If you question the logic, try to imagine a paid staff member of an academic institution serving 3/4’s of a bottle of vodka to a student in 15 minutes. It matters less that the person is 18, than it does that he or she is consuming fatal amounts of alcohol.


Friday, March 23rd, 2007

About two weeks ago Choose Responsibility’s director, John McCardell and I returned from a whirlwind trip to Colorado. While there, we met with interested parents, students, government officials, and college and university administrators to discuss our initiative. We got quite a bit of feedback and know that we’ve made some friends and allies out West! This article, which appeared this week in the Longmont Daily Times-Call, chronicles our reception in the Denver area. While in Colorado, McCardell also taped an interview for a documentary about excessive drinking and the college experience. The film is being put together by the Gordie Foundation, which was created in memory of Gordie Bailey, a freshman at the University of Colorado at Boulder who died after a night of fraternity hazing in September 2004.

This trip will be the first of many as we make our way to campuses and communities around the country to talk about our work at Choose Responsibility. Please contact us if you have an idea for how we could have a presence in your community.

Stay tuned–our full website will go live on Monday, April 9!

“Higher” Ed.

Tuesday, March 20th, 2007

This past week the Columbia University’s Center for Alcohol and Substance Abuse (CASA), headed by the former Secretary of Health Joseph Califano Jr., released a report on the state of alcohol and drug use on the college level. The full, text can be found here. Though this is not the first CASA report on the subject of college student substance abuse, it does appear, at least by first glance, to be more broadly accepted as legitimate scholarship in the field. The previous study released by CASA caught the attention of several major scholars and media outlets cooking its statistics to inflate the crisis of college drinking. Here’s a brief review of that criticism.

In my initial read of the CASA report titled, Wasting the Best and Brightest, I had very little trouble with their statistics. They are, in short, expected and not substantially different from other sources. In short, CASA reports that close to 50% of college students report abusing alcohol (binge drinking), illicit drugs, or prescription drugs. Previous research (2001) say binge drinking levels are about 40%. The way CASA compiles the all rates of abuse into one figure it is easy to mistake that figure for 25% increase in the rate of binge drinking (from 40 to 50 percent) in the past 5 years. That is definitely not the case. However, I do find it difficult to believe that 10% of the college population abuses illicit or prescription drugs but are not guilty of binge drinking. It’s possible, but rather unlikely. The take away point of all of this? The headlining statistic of their report, may not be as high as they report. It’s not the end of the world but if someone has the time it is definitely worth investigating in greater detail.

The other striking thing about the CASA report is the disconnect between the report itself and the accompanying statement by its director Joe Califano. The report proper is written well, and reflects the staid discussion of findings and recommendations that is expected from a college-funded study. That language is sharply contrasted by the rhetoric of Califano’s opening statement. “Too many [college presidents, deans, and trustees] assume a Pontius Pilate posture, leaving the problem in the hands of the students.” How that caustic attack on college administrators is supposed to solve the problem of abuse on college campuses is lost on this reader. The comparison is foolish, if not impudent.

Surgeon General’s Warning: Underage Drinking is a Problem

Thursday, March 8th, 2007

On Tuesday, following the release of the 2005 SAMHSA survey on alcohol use (see previous blog posting), the acting U.S. Surgeon General, Kenneth Moritsugu issued a “call to action” on underage drinking.

The Call to Action was developed in collaboration with the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). The plan establishes six clear goals:

1) Facilitate healthy adolescent development that help prevent and reduce underage drinking by fostering societal changes
2) Coordinate a national effort to encourage parents, schools, communities, the government, social systems and youth to prevent and reduce underage drinking and its consequences
3) Promote public education of the relationship between underage alcohol consumption and human development and maturation
4) Support research on adolescent alcohol use and human development
5) Improve public health surveillance on underage drinking and risk factors
6) Apply policies consistently at all levels to prevent and reduce underage alcohol consumption

How this declaration changes the government’s official stance on underage drinking prevention and treatment remains to be seen.

Drinking Age Debate

Friday, March 2nd, 2007

On February 18, 2007 the director of Choose Responsibility, and former president of Middlebury College, John McCardell debated a representative from Mothers Against Drunk Drivers over the merits of the 21 year-old drinking age. Here it is:

And on a lighter note: