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Stony Brook program on binge drinking raises interest

A new Stony Brook University initiative to prevent the consequences of binge drinking has sparked nationwide interest from more than 100 colleges, universities and high schools that want to replicate the program on their campuses.

“So many people who have been affected by the loss of a loved one or an acquaintance or a friend from toxic drinking have contacted us,” said Jenny Hwang, associate dean at Stony Brook and director for prevention and outreach.

Among them is Chris Homer, a health educator at Cold Spring Harbor High School, who Thursday attended a five-hour information session about the program, called Red Watch Band.

Homer, like the program, drew his inspiration from the death of his former student, Matthew Sunshine, from alcohol poisoning. Sunshine, the son of a Stony Brook professor, was a freshman at Northwestern University last year who died after his classmates took him to his room to sleep off a night of drinking.

“I had him as a student and I knew him well,” Homer said. “As a health teacher who has had something like this happen to a student . . . it just breaks your heart.

“I’m always trying to reach the kids and if I can get any new tools here or new ideas here, that’s what I’m after,” he said. About 20 people from 10 school districts participated in Thursday’s session.

Hwang said Stony Brook is still trying to figure out the best way to export the program to other campuses.

About 84 Stony Brook students have been trained in the program, which includes teaching them CPR, information about alcohol poisoning and participating in role-playing exercises designed to encourage them to call for help.

The idea, Stony Brook officials say, is to give students tools to overcome the social pressures that might otherwise prevent them from seeking help for someone exhibiting behavior associated with binge drinking.

Experts say the combination of medical and behavioral training, plus the focus on preventing harm, rather than preaching abstinence, makes the program unique on college campuses.

“Not many people,” Hwang said, “can argue with the importance of preventing death.”

source: Newsday

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