Reader's view: Student drinking is a serious public health issue

August 25, 2013 

Alcohol abuse by young men and women is a nationwide public health issue.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control says up to 90 percent of alcohol consumed by youth now involves binge drinking. Nationally, students in rural communities abuse alcohol more than their city peers, and young women increasingly match young men in participating in unsafe behaviors.

National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism research shows that as many as 2,000 college students die annually from alcohol-related, unintentional injuries. Despite rising death and injury rates, however, too many teens see drinking alcohol as the cool thing to do.

The CDC says our nation gains 7,000 underage drinkers every day — many before they leave high school. These young people already have a history of drinking when they enroll in college.

Former University of Idaho President Duane Nellis commissioned a task force last spring to ensure the University of Idaho was doing everything possible to combat these trends. This fall, we will introduce changes to promote safer, healthier lifestyles, including increasing the consequences and extending the reach of the student code of conduct for misbehavior, establishing closer collaborative oversight of Greek-life organizations and providing a range of educational, counseling and enforcement efforts.

Our student and administrative leaders are determined to be leaders in this arena. We’re not alone. Parents, K-12 educators, community leaders, law enforcement agencies and health care professionals are working to address this public health issue.

We’ve also joined forces with Idaho’s other post-secondary schools. The Idaho Higher Education Presidents’ Council reviewed plans this week for collaboration on best practices to address the national challenge. The University of Idaho and our sister institutions must do everything we can to protect our young people.

It’s the right thing to do.

Don Burnett is the interim president of the University of Idaho.

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