PULLMAN — A task force formed by Washington State University President Elson S. Floyd is close to developing a plan to reduce alcohol abuse among students.
The task force expects to submit a list of recommendations to Floyd in mid-April.
Floyd assembled the group after the alcohol-poisoning death of freshman Kenny Hummel. The 18-year-old was found unconscious in a residence hall on Oct. 27 and died a short time later at Pullman Regional Hospital.
The task force has reviewed a decade’s worth of data on alcohol-related incidents among WSU students. The school said its recommendations will include a mandatory education program for freshmen, a new model for screening and intervention, and collaboration with the Pullman hospital’s emergency department.
“Trying to change behavior by using stern lectures and scare tactics won’t work. It requires a multipronged approach that reaches into the community,” Bruce Wright, a psychiatrist who chairs the task force, said in a press release Thursday.
“It’s not that more students are drinking or that they’re drinking more often,” he added. “The data is telling us that, for the most part, some higher-risk students are consuming greater amounts of alcohol in short periods of time.”
Binge drinking, which is defined as consuming at least five drinks in a row for a man, four for a woman, appears “culturally entrenched,” said Wright.
Numerous studies, including one conducted nationwide by the Harvard School of Public Health, have found an increase in binge drinking among college students.
After reviewing WSU’s data and surveying students, several reasons have been identified for the rise of binge drinking, Wright said. They include wide availability of inexpensive alcohol near campus, drinking games, energy drinks and Internet culture.
“Research tells us that a significant link exists between binge drinking; close, easy access to alcohol; and special promotions such as drink bargains,” Wright said.
Students can buy alcohol where they buy gas or buy milk. And when bars advertise happy hours and drink specials, it “fuels heavy drinking behavior,” he said.
Wright said there appears to be an increasing link between caffeinated energy drinks and alcohol abuse. Hummel’s family has said they believe he died of such a mix.
Meanwhile, drinking apps for mobile devices and drinking games, including online versions, encourage fast, intense liquor consumption.
YouTube videos of people who are drunk, slurring or passed out “appear to provide a sort of badge of honor” to the inebriated subject, said Wright.
Emergency room workers at Pullman Regional Hospital treat an average of 200 students each year for alcohol poisoning and alcohol-related injuries, according to ER director Stacey Aggabao, who also serves on the task force.
From now on, “every one of those students will be screened to assess whether they’re at risk for substance-abuse problems,” she said.