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More Students Sent to Hospitals for Drunkenness This Fall

Statistics show a nearly one third increase over 2015


During the fall 2016 semester, 96 students were transported to local hospitals for extreme inebriation, up from 75 the previous autumn, according to Student Health Services data.

Of the 96 transports, the majority (79) were students under the age of 21, the legal drinking age in Massachusetts, says Leah Barison, a Wellness & Prevention Services counselor at Student Health Services (SHS).

The fall 2015 hospital runs marked a four-year low, which had encouraged University officials to believe that responsible-drinking education and enhanced enforcement were paying off. The reason for the most recent fall’s uptick is unclear, BU officials say.

It could be as simple as more drinking, says Scott Paré, acting chief of the Boston University Police Department and BU deputy director of public safety. If that’s the case, several factors could hypothetically be behind the increased imbibing, says William DeJong, a School of Public Health professor of community health sciences and a member of the University’s Alcohol Task Force. These could include more entering students this year with a history of heavy drinking and a belief among students that the University will focus on education and safety, rather than punitive discipline, if they drink too much.

Katharine Mooney (SPH’12), Wellness & Prevention director, suggests that the rise could reflect that fact that “more students and staff are calling for help for drunken students—not necessarily more students drinking in dangerous ways.”

Given the uncertainty as to what causes year-to-year changes in transport numbers, DeJong cautions against quick conclusions: “We shouldn’t make too much of year-to-year changes, but instead should focus on the overall trend across several years.”

graph showing increase in alcohol transports for 2016

BU saw a sharp uptick in the number of medical alcohol transports this fall compared to last fall, but the number was still below that for 2014.

Looking at the hospital transports trend over the past five falls, (see accompanying chart), “we’ve really had some ups and downs,” Mooney says. “We really aren’t sure what’s contributing to this pattern.” She says the University hopes to learn whether nearby peer institutions are seeing a similar pattern.

This past fall’s transports shared traits with those in previous years, according to SHS data. The majority were freshmen and women.

SHS received data on the blood alcohol content of most of the transported students and found the average was .183, more than double the legal limit and a point where “you can expect the student to be extremely intoxicated,” Barison says. “They may black out.”

The weekend leading up to Halloween saw a spike in transports, similar to previous years, the data show. The weekend before Thanksgiving was another peak period.

The University’s efforts to curb excessive drinking include a mandatory online course for first-year students, begun in 2013. The course combats misperceptions that overimbibing is typical on campuses. Also, bystander education trains students to intervene safely with drunken peers.

SHS also provides online information for parents to use in discussing drinking with their children, as well as student kits that show student leaders how to encourage responsible partying.

BU’s bolstered alcohol enforcement, begun in 2011, increases police patrols in party-heavy off-campus neighborhoods and the breakup of loud parties. It is based on a University of California program with demonstrated results in reducing off-campus drinking.

The BUPD is reviewing when to launch this year’s enhanced spring semester enforcement, Captain Robert Molloy says. The department says that spring enforcement, which they began three years ago, typically starts after spring break, allowing officers to intercept more underage students with alcohol. “However, as we move forward” after fall’s transports, Molloy says, “we will be reviewing our alcohol transports and protective custody cases to determine if we will start the enforcement earlier.”

Rich Barlow

Rich Barlow can be reached at barlowr@bu.edu.

8 Comments on More Students Sent to Hospitals for Drunkenness This Fall

  • Richard Saitz on 01.25.2017 at 5:35 am

    A more detailed 5 year study at BU found that implemented policies likely increased transports (a good thing because previously students at similar dangerous levels of intoxication were not receiving medical care). The study published last year can be found here https://ascpjournal.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s13722-016-0059-4

  • Logic Rules on 01.25.2017 at 9:02 am

    Public intoxication under certain circumstances can be a criminal offense. Boston University should have no place for criminals.

    • Joe on 02.07.2017 at 4:51 pm

      No one is a criminal until conviction, so your comment doesn’t make much logical sense.

  • Dark Times on 01.25.2017 at 10:02 am

    All I can say is that I definitely drank more between September and December just to cope with this most recent election cycle.

    • Logic Rules on 01.25.2017 at 1:22 pm

      If you have to rely on drinking to cope, you need professional help:

    • chief on 01.25.2017 at 6:31 pm

      I’ve been drinking more often because of that as well. My daughter (22 and goes to BU) came home for the holidays and we really put a dent in the liquor stash. I’m not surprised that more kids are drinking this year, I would think that the election was a major factor, and honestly, I don’t blame them.

      • Logic Rules on 01.26.2017 at 7:29 am

        Yes, I know quite a few people, who drank in celebration. Let’s Make American Great Again”

  • Ben on 01.25.2017 at 10:26 am

    Enforcement and education are all well and good, but I think Dark Times makes an excellent point:

    Keeping students away from alcohol with negative policies (“Doing this will hurt you”; “Doing this will make us hurt you”) seems to merely treat the symptom. The disease is an environment in which drinking stupid amounts seems like the best option given what’s available. For example, this is not rigorous, but it is thought-provoking: https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2017/01/teens-drugs-iceland/513668/

    Arguably, BU does a good bit of that already, although due to lack of outdoor space some of the best options are limited. But I also think it would be interesting to see how the drinking rate correlated with week-by-week news of time leading up to, and the aftermath of, the election. Tricky given small sample sizes at just BU, but could probably be combined with data from campuses nationwide.

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