Washington State U. Task Force Targets Binge Drinking

PULLMAN, Wash. — An alcohol and drug task force formed in the fall by Washington State University (WSU) President Elson S. Floyd is developing a blueprint to cut a disturbing trend at colleges nationwide — alcohol abuse among students.

Floyd assembled the group in the wake of the alcohol-poisoning death of freshman Kenny Hummel, who was found unconscious in a residence hall on Oct. 27 and died a short time later at Pullman Regional Hospital. The 18-year-old became one of an estimated 2,000 college students between ages 18 and 24 who die from alcohol-related incidents each year, according to statistics from the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.

After reviewing a decade’s worth of data on alcohol-related incidents among WSU students, the 17-member task force is drafting plans that include a ramped-up mandatory education program for freshmen, a new model for screening and intervention, and collaboration with the Pullman hospital’s emergency department.

Emergency room workers at Pullman Regional Hospital treat an average of 200 students each year for alcohol poisoning and alcohol-related injuries, according to ER director Stacey Aggabao, who also serves on the task force. From now on, “every one of those students will be screened to assess whether they’re at risk for substance-abuse problems,” she said.

If so, emergency room staff will work with WSU Health and Wellness to intervene and get them help. Recently, a medical expert from the University of Wisconsin trained 75 people from both institutions on the new model they’ll be using. Called SBIRT (screening, brief intervention and referral to treatment), it’s a public health approach designed to deliver early intervention and treatment to persons with substance abuse problems and also those at risk of developing problems.

At the health and wellness clinic, SBIRT will be integrated into each student primary-care visit, with follow-through as needed, he said.

“Booze, Sex and Reality Checks” is a mandatory program of discussion sessions on drug and alcohol abuse and sexual decision making for WSU freshmen. The course was started this school year, and students who don’t complete it can’t register for a second semester.

The task force is evaluating students’ feedback on the program, as well as on a website created by WSU’s Alcohol and Drug Counseling, Assessment and Prevention Services

Read the full press release.

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