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Report: Binge Drinking a $2.8 Million Problem in OR

PHOTO: Worse than the hangover? The CDC says in a single year, the effects of binge drinking cost Oregon $2.8 billion. Photo credit: Microsoft Images.
PHOTO: Worse than the hangover? The CDC says in a single year, the effects of binge drinking cost Oregon $2.8 billion. Photo credit: Microsoft Images.
August 19, 2013

PORTLAND, Ore. - The problem of binge drinking has put a huge and under-recognized burden on states and taxpayers. That's the conclusion of a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) - and Oregon is no exception. The report tallied the cost of health problems, lost productivity, crime and related issues for binge drinking. In Oregon, the estimate is $2.8 billion a year - or $1.75 for every drink consumed in the state.

Dr. Robert Brewer, CDC alcohol program leader, said 78 cents of that is paid in some form through state government.

"We're talking about costs at the state level that are of the same order of magnitude as the costs of smoking - and in many states, the same order of magnitude as the cost of Medicaid," Brewer said. "This is a huge burden for society and, of course, for the individuals who are drinking excessively, as well."

The report defines binge drinking as consuming five or more drinks on an occasion for men, and for women, four or more drinks. According to Brewer, the CDC is investigating problem drinking as a public health issue.

These figures don't surprise Steve Sander, who coordinates the Alcohol Education Program for the Oregon Liquor Control Commission (OLCC). He said the report may indicate a need to shift more focus from the people serving the drinks - to the ones buying them.

"The way our laws in the Legislature are written right now, we're mandated to educate the hospitality industry," Sander said. "And they're oftentimes saying, 'Well, we know what the laws are. How about educating the public, you know?' And we'd love to, but we don't really have the legislative power to do it - or the budget to do it."

Booze is also big business in Oregon, which generates money for counties and cities and complicates the issue. The OLCC's figures for the last two years show a 12-percent increase in alcohol sales over the previous two years.

Sander said a look at the research about who's drinking too much reveals some interesting trends.

"The real upsurge or uptick in binge drinking has been among girls; they've really seen a marked increase for girls and women," he said. "It's a much bigger problem in the older Americans than it is younger. And economically speaking, it's higher amongst people making over $50,000 a year."

The report suggested raising taxes on beverage alcohol and restricting the sites where it is available, in order to reduce problem drinking - options that typically raise objections from the public and the hospitality industry.

The full report is available at www.ajpmonline.org.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - OR