UI alcohol plan advances

BY NINA EARNEST | MARCH 10, 2011 7:20 AM

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Preliminary results suggest the Alcohol Harm Reduction Plan may be making progress toward its goal of decreasing dangerous drinking.

A member of the Alcohol Harm Reduction Committee discussed the plan — aimed at reducing the 70 percent binge-drinking rate reported on campus — and presented an update to the University of Iowa Staff Council on Wednesday.

“We do have some extremely early indicators [binge drinking] is going down,” said UI Professor Susan Assouline, a committee member. “But we don’t have enough in terms of being able to measure this significantly at this point.”

Assouline later said there is an observed decrease in the number of alcohol-related emergency-room visits compared with previous years.

But the numbers are still being collected, the professor said. And she emphasized it was still too early to measure success in the first year of the plan’s implementation.

“Nobody can say there is a cause and effect, but it’s definitely an indicator it’s a step in the right direction,” Assouline said.

Officials are also working toward fulfilling a key recommendation: to create a senior UI position to coordinate alcohol-harm-reduction activities. Assouline said a search committee is being formed for the coordinator position.

Robert Saltz, a researcher at the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation, said he wouldn’t be surprised such a plan could work quickly.

“If something is well-implemented around policies and procedures, you could have an effect,” he said.

UI officials initially unveiled the three-year, 39-tactic, Alcohol Harm Reduction Plan — the result of almost a year’s worth of meetings from a 26-member committee — in early December. This was the first official presentation to the Staff Council.

Initiative goals include attracting low-risk drinkers and fewer high risk-drinkers, retaining students identified as low-risk drinkers, and assisting high-risk drinkers decrease their consumption during their time at the university. Overall, officials aim to decrease the binge-drinking rate from 70 to 55 percent.

But some councilors questioned the distinction between a low- and high-risk drinker.

“That seems to be very hard to identify,” said exiting Staff Council President Amber Seaton during the presentation.

A high-risk drinker, Assouline clarified, is a student who has had five drinks or more in a two-hour period in the past two weeks.

She assured staff members that students applying to the university will not be filtered based on drinking behaviors.

This idea was included in extremely preliminary plans but not the final report.

“I think it’s hard to know who you’re getting,” Seaton said after the meeting.

Assouline called the outline — designed for 2010-2013 — a “living document.” Reduction committee members have started working on plans for 2014, she said.

Staff Council member Jerry Pike said he wanted to know more about volunteer opportunities to engage staff with students.

“I’m very interested to see what staff can do to support the initiative,” he said.

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