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Alcohol-Related Deaths are Rising. Will New State Rules Help?


The reduction in underage drinking and drunken driving accidents among young people is a great public health achievement in the United States. But data suggest that among people who are middle age, another problem involving excess drinking has been quietly brewing, as an alarming number of Americans are dying younger than

The rise was driven by drug overdoses and suicides, but also by alcohol poisoning, chronic liver disease and cirrhosis. A 2015 study found that the trend began among people ages 45 to 54 in 1999 and continued through 2013, resulting in an increase of 134 deaths per 100,000 people.

When it comes to tackling alcohol misuse in middle age, the route for public health strategists has been unclear.

Part of the dilemma is that, unlike opioids such as heroin, alcohol is a legal product that studies suggest can contribute to better heart health. Calls for restricting access to alcohol through taxes or other means aren’t always successful.

Long-held beliefs about the benefits of moderate drinking are becoming muddled. Public health officials in other countries increasingly are warning that alcohol is a risk factor for cancer. While the latest U.S. dietary guidelines state moderate alcohol use can be part of a healthy diet, they no longer tie it to cardiovascular benefits.

Former Surgeon General Vivek Murthy released a report in November on addiction that recommended strategies for tackling alcoholism and binge drinking. It cited taxes on alcohol, limiting where alcohol can be sold and how often, and reducing marketing and advertising.

Though the trend in the U.S. has been to loosen regulations on alcohol access, state-level restrictions involving blood alcohol content are being weighed in Hawaii and may also be considered in Washington State.

Massachusetts has been cracking down on stores that sell alcohol for less than what they paid, and a bill introduced in Oregon would ban imbibing on beaches.
Various members of the public health community believe that restrictions on alcohol are an important tool for reducing alcohol-related deaths. Thomas Babor, head of the Department of Community Medicine and Health Care at the University of Connecticut, who has conducted research on alcohol restrictions, argues that the laws don't get in the way of moderate drinkers, but of impulse buyers.

"It's not the retired couple having a glass of wine in the evening with a meal that is going to be disadvantaged," Babor said. "If anything, it will prevent them from being rear-ended by a drunk driver."

Source: Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America (CADCA)

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