“Officer is Charged with Murder of a Black Man Shot in the Back.” This was the headline from The New York Times on April 8, 2015. A white police officer in North Charleston, South Carolina was caught on video shooting and killing an unarmed black man while he was running away. This was the lead story on “The Today Show” the same day. On April 9, Matt Lauer interviewed the young man who captured the video. The entire nation is engaged in a fierce debate over the appropriate use of deadly force by law enforcement. The White House created a task force, which is recommending changes to police policies. The Attorney General is visiting cities all across the country, soothing the tensions between the police and minority neighborhoods. This South Carolina incident reminds everyone of the recent use of lethal force by police in New York, Cleveland, and Ferguson, Missouri. We are outraged!
“Coroner: USC Student…Died of ‘Toxic’ Blood Alcohol Level”. This was the headline from The State newspaper in Columbia, South Carolina on April 8, 2015. The University of South Carolina freshman was found dead last month at a house commonly used by a USC fraternity. According to The State, he “had a blood alcohol level more than four times the legal driving limit at the time of his death.” A toxicology report showed that he had a blood alcohol level of 0.375 percent; the coroner said this was a toxic level, which “ultimately” caused the student’s death. The coroner further commented that “There is no way to tell whether that amount of alcohol was ingested voluntarily or by force.” The coroner called the death “tragic and totally preventable.”
The coroner went on to say: “It is something that I think we see too often. Everybody’s drinking and having a good time, and somebody says, ‘Well, my friend passed out. We’ll let him sleep it off.’” Watts said, “They’re not going to sleep it off. They’re going to die. Some type of medical intervention needs to take place in a lot of these cases, and it didn’t.” The coroner concluded that a blood alcohol level that high would often be the result of binging or chugging.
Where is the outrage over this young man’s tragic death? Where is the outrage over underage drinking? Where is the outrage over binge drinking on college campuses?
There was no headline in The New York Times. There was no lead story on “The Today Show.” Matt Lauer did not interview anyone about the incident. The White House did not create a task force to study the problem of underage drinking, binge drinking on college campuses, or our collective casual attitude toward alcohol abuse. The Attorney General has not visited our state or the USC campus to express his concern.
Where is the outrage?
Where is the outrage over the fact that four out of five college students drink alcohol with about half consuming alcohol through binge drinking? Where is the outrage over the thousands of college student deaths between the ages of 18 and 24 each year from alcohol-related injuries? Where is the outrage over the students between the ages of 18 and 24 who are assaulted by another student who has been drinking? What about the students between the ages of 18 and 24 who are victims of alcohol-related sexual assault or date rape? Where is the outrage?
Where is the outrage over the fact that 34 percent of eighth-graders reported drinking in the past year? Where is the outrage that 64 percent of eighth-graders say that alcohol is easy to get?
Medical research on alcohol and the brain is clear. First, the earlier a young person starts to drink, the more likely they are to have a drinking problem later in life. Second, research shows that a teen’s brain is not fully developed until well into the twenties. Indeed, as with other teens, my 14-year-old’s brain does not have a “stop button.” The teen brain simply does not have the wiring necessary to tell them when to stop. As a result, teens act impulsively and often seek out dangerous situations, including drinking alcohol.
While college students commonly binge drink, 70 percent of binge drinking episodes involve adults age 26 years and older. Where is the outrage? Where is the outrage over the fact that about 90 percent of the alcohol consumed by youth under the age of 21 in the United States is in the form of binge drinking? Binge drinking is more common among those with household incomes of $75,000 or more than among those with lower incomes. Where is the outrage? Binge drinking costs everyone; where is the outrage over the fact that it costs the United States $223.5 billion from losses in productivity, health care, crime and other expenses?
Where is the outrage over our failure to implement evidence-based interventions to prevent binge drinking? Where is our outrage over the failure to hold alcohol retailers responsible for the harm caused by their under-age customers? Where is the outrage over our failure to consistently enforce laws against under-age drinking and alcohol-impaired driving? Where is our outrage at our failure to screen and counsel for alcohol misuse?
As with most things, it begins at home. We can make a difference by talking to our kids about alcohol. We can start by talking to our kids about alcohol facts, reasons not to drink and ways to avoid drinking in difficult situations. We can help by knowing whether our kids are at high risk for a drinking problem, knowing the warning signs of a teen drinking problem and acting promptly to get help for our kids.
Until then, where is the outrage?