A newly released state report on underaged and at-risk drinking in Pennsylvania might take some of the fizz out of your favorite tonic.
The bottom line:
- “Research has shown that excessive alcohol use was responsible for an estimated one in eight deaths among adults between 20 and 64 years old,” liquor regulators asserted in their report.
- About 4.2 million (11.1%) of 12- to 20-year-olds reported binge drinking at least once in the past month, the state data showed.
- In 2022, 58% of underage buyers were carded for alcohol and still served during Pennsylvania State Police Bureau of Liquor Control Enforcement age-compliance checks at licensed establishments, according to liquor regulators.
“The most widely used substance among youth in the U.S. is alcohol. Underage alcohol consumption results in thousands of deaths annually due to motor vehicle crashes, violence, suicide and alcohol poisoning, to name a few causes,” the report’s authors wrote. “Underage drinking can also lead to long-term cognitive impairment and decreased academic performance, as well as increase the chances of developing an alcohol use disorder as an adult.”
What’s behind it?
According to the state, three factors: The rise of alcopops, higher alcohol by volume (ABV) beers, alcohol slushies and borgs (blackout rage gallons), which are pretty much what they sound like, and are a variation on the clear booze and powdered drink mix of your youth.
And “with information available on the internet and in social media, teens are learning creative ways to inhale, communicate about and hide alcohol,” the report’s authors noted.
Cars and Booze — Still a deadly combination.
Below, a look at alcohol-impaired driving fatalities. The chart compares Pennsylvania against the rest of the nation and the so-called “best state.”
According to the report, there were 9,220 alcohol-related crashes in Pennsylvania in 2021, up from 7,700 in 2020.
Alcohol-related fatalities also increased to 311 in 2021 from 293 in 2020. And even though “alcohol-related crashes accounted for approximately 8% of the total crashes in 2021, they accounted for 25% of fatal crashes.
“Alcohol-related crashes were four times more likely to result in a fatality than those not related to alcohol (3.2% of the alcohol-related crashes resulted in fatality, compared to 0.8% of crashes that were not alcohol-related),” the report’s authors noted.
Nationwide, “alcohol-impaired driving crashes increased 14% from 2020 to 2021, higher than total traffic fatalities, which increased by 10%,” the report’s authors wrote.
So what is the state doing about it?
It’s proceeding along several tracks.
In the 2020-21 and 2021-22 budget years, the PLCB provided $59.9 million in funding to the Bureau of Liquor Code Enforcement, which is mainly responsible for enforcing the state’s liquor laws.
Between 2020 and 2022, state liquor regulators also awarded $2.8 million in grant money to 84 recipients through its Reducing Underage and Dangerous Drinking (RUDD) grant program. During the 2022-24 grant cycle, the agency said it awarded a “record” $3.4 million to 97 organizations.
Beneficiaries of the money included schools, community organizations, municipalities, law enforcement organizations, nonprofit organizations, institutions of higher education and for-profit institutions, with an eye toward funding programs “that focus on strategies to discourage and reduce both underage and dangerous drinking,” the report’s authors noted.
Depending on the organization, that took several forms:
- “Community law-enforcement organizations use funding for targeted underage patrols, training and education, outreach and equipment;
- “Community and nonprofit organizations fund initiatives such as MADD’s Power of Parents® and Parents Who Host Lose the Most®, Project Northland, public service announcements, town hall meetings and enforcement efforts;
- “Primary and secondary schools fund various programs aimed at reaching students, such as social norms campaigns, guest speakers and impaired driving simulation activities;
- “College and university recipients enable schools to develop strategies to reduce underage and dangerous drinking through surveys and assessments, enforcement efforts, alcohol-free alternative activities, attendance at alcohol education conferences, training for resident assistants, peer education programs and evidence-informed programs like EVERFI AlcoholEdu® and SafeColleges,” and
- “For-profit organizations focus on peer-to-peer outreach and public service announcements.”
The state also provides training to “to institutions of higher education, law enforcement organizations and liquor license holders,” that vary depending on the institution, according to the report.
The agency said it further conducts media programs to educate younger Pennsylvanians on responsible alcohol use.
“In line with the agency’s mission of promoting no-use and zero-tolerance alcohol messages for those under the age of 21, the goal of the campaign is to prevent underage drinking by arming parents with the information, tools and confidence they need to begin having meaningful and effective conversations about alcohol with their children at an early age, before trial or use of alcohol begins,” the report’s authors wrote.
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