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Combating high-risk drinking: It’s time to get to work

Mankato Free Press Editorial

The suggestions were posted on the walls around the room: mandatory alcohol education, peer mentoring, evidence-based research, educate adults/parents, enforcement, offer a safe haven to take intoxicated people at no charge, begin a dialogue with the school district to educate students in lower grade levels.

And this is just a very small sampling of the brainstorming done at Wednesday’s community summit on high-risk drinking.

It’s a really solid start to a job that won’t ever have a clean finish.

This community was jarred into action by the October death of 21-year-old Amanda Jax, as well as two other alcohol-related deaths of young adults that occurred here after that. Even if Mankato somehow breaks free of what seems to be the curse of death by drinking, that doesn’t mean our troubles are over. A culture of excessive drinking takes a toll on numerous areas of society, including public safety, human services, local government budgets, public health, academic institutions and the court system, to name a few.

What was evident after a half day of gathering to discuss the problem and possible solutions of high-risk drinking is that the work will be ongoing and involves reshaping social norms. The wholesome, hard-working Midwest is a mecca for binge alcohol use, defined as four or five drinks in one sitting. Minnesota ranks 13th in binge drinking for 12- to 20-year-olds, according to the 2006 National Survey on Drug Use and Health Report. Neighboring states rank even higher.

Despite the challenging amount of work that lies ahead, the Mankato community should take heart after hearing from Susanne Williams of Minnesota State University-Moorhead. Williams leads a collaborative group that works to minimize the culture of drinking in Moorhead, which also has experienced drinking-related deaths in the last few years. After the community launched various efforts to tackle the problem, it saw results: Moorhead students who participate in high-risk drinking dropped from nearly 60 percent in 2001 to about 42 percent in 2007.

Tactics used by Moorhead include requiring freshmen to take an alcohol-awareness class, city ordinances that mandate alcohol-server training, late-night entertainment programming, continuous campus presentations, restricting alcohol advertising. It’s clear that to jump start change, the work needs to be done on multiple levels.

Mankato may choose to adopt all of Moorhead’s tactics, or none of them. We should steal the elements we think will work here and discard those we think won’t.

The important part of the plan is to include community and campus members — including numerous students — in mapping the route Mankato will take.

And the other key part of the plan, once it’s put into motion, is to remember that the work has no completion date.

This Mankato Free Press editorial was originally published Feb. 29.

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