Published: Jun 07, 2012 10:51 AM
Modified: Jun 07, 2012 10:52 AM
A river city, Memphis, Tenn., is a town with a reputation for good times, blues music, and fine food and drink.
A large metropolitan area, it’s a town with an underage drinking problem.
Mayor Mark Luttrell recently participated in the May 21 National Underage Drinking Prevention Day there.
Surrounded by alcohol retailers, distributors, law enforcement and community leaders, Luttrell said,
“Alcohol use by young people is dangerous, not only because of the risks associated with acute impairment but also because of the grave threat to their long-term development and well-being.”
A university town, Chapel Hill, N.C., is a community with a reputation for academic accomplishment, diverse culture, and great basketball. Medium-sized, it’s also a town with a very serious underage drinking problem.
May 20 to 26 was National Underage Drinking Prevention Week. It’s meant as a time for communities to come together to focus on the importance of preventing alcohol abuse, while promoting mental, emotional, and behavioral well-being.
Chapel Hill leaders held no public activities to note the event.
For months, our town has engaged in an important community conversation. Called 2020, it has been a collaborative undertaking between town leaders and residents. Its purpose is crafting a 10-year Comprehensive Plan to define a future vision for Chapel Hill, providing a positive statement about the place we want to be.
While some casually dismiss excessive collegiate drinking as a fanciful “rite of passage” to adulthood, more credible research, including findings by the UNC School of Medicine Bowles Center for Alcohol Studies, reports that underage drinking is a grave public health threat. The Bowles Center is one of only 14 such funded National Research Centers.
With collegiate alcohol-related deaths and poisoning at record levels, nearly one-half of drinking collegians are dangerous binge drinkers. And 25 percent of drinking students report suffering an adverse academic consequence as a result of personal drinking activity.
These and much more support the conclusion that student drinking compromises the very mission of a great university, harms the town and threatens the health of the individual.
With bright and capable leadership, it’s certain both town and university officials are well aware of this public health threat and the many related negative behavioral outcomes. Unfortunately, they do little collaboratively to prevent them.
A few years ago, Harvard University School of Public Health produced a seminal research report, the College Alcohol Study, on the confirmed harmful effects of collegiate drinking.
Among its findings, it concluded that excessive drinking problems are common in collegiate communities. Harmful to both the individual drinker and the greater community, it noted the potential for both short- and long-term harm.
It found that neither a town nor university could solve the problem alone. In part, this is because of the influence each entity brings that either enables or supports the problem. It concluded the only way for university communities to effectively address their serious underage drinking problems is by mutual collaboration between ‘town and gown’ officials.
It’s time to stop enabling or defending dangerous alcohol use here. For the health and safety of youths in our community, as we conclude the 2020 Comprehensive Plan process, it should include a visionary commitment by Chapel Hill and UNC leaders to collaborate in efforts to reduce the serious health and safety threat of underage drinking.Ron Bogle is a retired Superior Court judge.
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