Student Alcohol Overdoses on the Rise at PSU

UNIVERSITY PARK – Following years of educational initiatives, broad community efforts and a number of recent high profile student deaths and injuries in alcohol-related crashes it appears the dangerous drinking problem in State College is still following national trends — it is getting worse.

As part of the University’s efforts to address the issue of dangerous drinking it receives ER data from the Mount Nittany Medical Center. The statistics for the first quarter of 2007 show a steep increase over the same period a year earlier.

“During the first quarter of 2006 there were 79 Penn State students taken to the medical center emergency room with alcohol-related problems,” said Bill Mahon, co-chair of the Town-Gown Partnership United Against Dangerous Drinking. During January, February and March of 2007 the number climbed 38 percent — to 109 students.”

The average blood alcohol level of students who showed up in the ER also climbed slightly, from .233 during the first quarter of 2006 to .245 for the first three months of 2007.

“In a national and statewide context this trend is not surprising, but it is one of many different kinds of data we collect that indicates locally the problem continues to get worse, not better,” Mahon said.

“Penn State has committed significant sums of money to address many different aspects of the alcohol problem and the local media have helped to focus community attention on it, but the messages don’t seem to resonate with students,” Mahon said.

“While those treated at the ER make up a very small percentage of all Penn State students,” said State College Mayor Bill Welch, “they are the tip of a very large iceberg that costs millions to the University and the community.” Welch serves as co-chair of the Partnership.

This is just one piece of information among many different kinds of alcohol-related information the Town-Gown Partnership tracks, said Mahon. Many of the indicators show the problem is getting worse with Penn State students and also with non-students. DUI arrests last year in Centre County — which is a statistic that includes a large percentage of non-students — hit a new record with more than 1,000 recorded by area police departments in 2006.

No data is available for non-Penn State students who go to the local ER with alcohol overdoses, but national research indicates a significant part of the problem begins in middle school and high school.

Additional information about how Penn State and the State College community is addressing dangerous drinking and statistics on local alcohol sales, DUI arrests and other data can be found at Penn State Live: http://live.psu.edu/story/453

“Once warm weather arrives and a large number of visitors come into town for the annual Blue-White football game we hope everyone, but especially Penn State students, take care not to put themselves in dangerous situations through excessive drinking,” Mahon said.

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