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Clinical physician argues changes needed to cut into alcohol abuse

Fighting the estimated $5 billion impact of alcohol and drug abuse on society requires more than stricter criminal laws, a physician told a local group Friday.

Dr. Richard Brown, Wisconsin Initiative to Promote Healthy Lifestyles clinical director, argued there are several ways to cut such costs in courts, social services and health care:

  • Boost community support for policy changes to outweigh lobbying from alcohol and tavern interests.
  • Strengthen enforcement of drinking age laws and the perception that scofflaws will get caught.
  • Reduce the number of taverns, places to get liquor late at night, and other liquor outlets.
  • Hike Wisconsin’s beer tax, the second lowest in the nation.
  • Implement successful treatment plans.

Brown told the 120 people at the community forum at the Kenosha Public Museum that improved detection of underage drinkers, not serving intoxicated patrons and making youth aware of the consequences of excessive drinking would help.

The initiative is implementing a program funded by federal money called screening, brief intervention and referral to treatment, or SBIRT, which identifies risky behaviors and encourages treatment. Brown said SBIRT has cut alcohol-related arrests by 46 percent, hospitalizations by 30 percent, binge drinking by 20 percent and traffic crashes by 50 percent.

Fifteen insurance companies in Wisconsin pay for the program, but not all doctors use it.

“So if they did, we’d see a significant decline in health care costs, employers would see an increase in productivity and we’d have safer highways,” Brown said in a Thursday interview.

Patients of doctors who use SBIRT fill out a form and receive treatment recommendations if needed. The initiative Web site said the program as of Jan. 14 had offered 81,644 screenings, referred 323 patients and led to treatment of 116 people.

The assessments are important because Wisconsin ranks first nationwide for binge drinking and drunken driving, Brown said.

Why the state ranks high in risky behavior is unknown, he said. His opinion was that, among other things, the state was settled by Europeans whose cultures were open to alcohol use.

“That and the Wild West American party ethic has combined to give us those distinctions,” he believed.

source: Kenosha News

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