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Red Watch Band friends don’t let friends get too drunk

When Suzanne Fields’ son died of an alcohol overdose last year, a few days after completing his first year of college, she decided she wanted to keep other students from suffering the same fate.

“I thought at the time my son died that his death was preventable, that I wanted to do something to prevent other students from dying the way he did,” she says.

So when Shirley Strum Kenny, the president of Stony Brook University, where Fields is a professor and administrator, asked if there was anything she could do to help, Fields suggested a program to empower students to help their peers when they’ve had too much to drink.

The result was the Red Watch Band movement, which aims to give students the skills to intervene when someone passes out from binge drinking. Students volunteer for the program, which involves 2½ hours of CPR training and an hour of alcohol-related emergency training.

After the training is complete, students receive a red watch that serves as a symbol of the band of students watching out for one another.

About 90 Stony Brook students have completed the training, says Jenny Hwang, associate dean and director for prevention and outreach, and more than 100 other institutions have expressed interest in bringing the program to their schools in the fall.

The school’s effort comes as the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism reports today that alcohol-related deaths and heavy drinking at college campuses continue to rise.

Based on government data and national surveys, the report says drinking-related accidental deaths among 18- to 24-year-olds have crept upward from 1,440 in 1998 to 1,825 in 2005; the percentage of students admitting to binge drinking has risen from 42% to 45%.

Ralph Hingson, director of the institute’s division of epidemiology and prevention research, says colleges and surrounding communities need to use the information available to address the issue. “It’s sort of ironic that as our knowledge base has increased on how to reduce these problems, the problem is getting worse,” he says.

Hwang says a program like the Red Watch Band movement is necessary because it is unrealistic to expect students to “100% abstain from alcohol use.”

“Our students absolutely need to know how to stay alive, and we need to be doing something to equip them and empower them to create a culture where they can look out for each other and care about each other,” she says.

Kenny says that by getting students involved in the program, school officials hope to change campus culture to a place where students “know it’s not cool to over-drink.”

“We realized that if this is going to stop it has to come from the students themselves,” she says, and “that lecturing them about it is not a way to change behaviors.”

Tim Workman, assistant professor in the school of allied health sciences at Baylor College of Medicine, says the public deaths of many students from alcohol poisoning has caused a spike in programs like the Red Watch Band in the past decade. Many of these programs provide students with wallet cards or point them to websites that give information on how to handle an alcohol emergency.

“We’ve just had case after case after case where students’ friends were just going to let them sleep it off,” he says.

He adds that programs like the Red Watch Band are important, but they need to be paired with prevention education. “We don’t just want to see an increase in 911 calls. What we want to see is a decrease in incidents,” he says.

source: USA Today

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