Nearly 1,000 students a year treated at Boston hospitals
Just days after the state Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission announced a ban on the sale of alcoholic beverages that contain caffeine, the Boston Public Health Commission released new data today showing that in the last few years nearly 1,000 college-age students a year in Boston have encounters with alcohol serious enough to send them to hospital emergency departments in the city.
Of the more than 40,000 annual emergency department visits among 18 to 22 year olds in Boston since 2008, more than 2 percent are for alcohol-related problems. The emergency room trips are most common from September to November, when school starts, and least common in the summer months when most students leave for break.
When nearly 1,000 college students are winding up in emergency departments every year because of alcohol, that’s a serious problem and a burden on the health care system,’’ said Dr. Barbara Ferrer, executive director of the Boston Public Health Commission. "It makes the fact that companies would market alcoholic energy drinks like Four Loko to college-age students all the more appalling.’’
Hospital surveillance data analyzed by the Public Health Commission doesn’t specify the type of alcohol that’s sending college students to the ER. Alcoholic energy drinks like Four Loko, dubbed by some college students as "blackout in a can,’’ have recently caught the attention of government regulators, including the Food and Drug Administration, which issued warning letters last week to four manufacturers to either change the drinks’ formula or risk having them removed from store shelves. The FDA said the combination of caffeine and alcohol in the drinks creates a public health concern and can lead to "a state of wide-awake drunk.’’
The Public Health Commission found that alcohol-related emergency department visits among 18 to 22 year olds totaled 975 in 2008, 978 in 2009, and 935 through Nov. 13, 2010. Over the course of these three years, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center had 743 visits, followed by Saint Elizabeth Medical Center with 670, and Boston Medical Center with 602. Mass General Hospital had 339 visits, while Tufts Medical Center had 305 alcohol-related visits among college-age students. Eighteen and 19 year olds made up the largest number of those visits.
Julia Gunn, who analyzed the data and is the director of the Communicable Disease Control Division at the Public Health Commission, said the emergency department visits could be the result of the student experiencing alcohol poisoning, unconsciousness, vomiting, injuries or falls, dehydration, and even sexual assault.
The takeaway message here is that if young people don’t learn to drink responsibly, they can wind up in an emergency department,’’ said Dr. Anita Barry, director of the Infectious Disease Bureau at the Public Health Commission. ``Alcohol is a public health and a public safety issue, and it creates a utilization of the health care system that is preventable.’’
Four neighborhood No Drugs Coalitions - funded by the Public Health Commission through a grant from the Massachusetts Department of Public Health - are working in Allston-Brighton, Chinatown, Dorchester, and South Boston to raise awareness of the hazards of underage drinking and developing targeted campaigns aimed at changing attitudes toward underage and binge drinking.
Related: Health Advisory - Combined Alcohol and Energy Drinks