According to University of Colorado-Boulder Wardenburg Health Center's lead physician Tom Kunstman, alcohol poisoning deaths for college students are becoming more and more of a problem. "There's at least six (this year) but there's no place that's actually keeping data on alcohol deaths," According to Kunstman, one reason is that the "norm" has become much higher than it was a generation ago, pointing out quaffing rituals such as drinking 21 shots on one's 21st birthday..
(previous posts: Alcohol overdose: timelines, and what to do with a potential victim; start of series: Lists of Kids Dying on Campus from Alcohol Poisoning, 2004; what you can do to change the underage drinking climate in your community; Patrick McCann's death in a drug dealing house; two sources of help: T-Dub.org, T DuB is an organization that deals with getting the message out about alcohol poisoning to teens and young adults. B.R.A.D. is: Be Responsible About Drinking, Inc)
Drinking deaths across nation raising awareness by Erin Wiggins--October 14, 2004
The 2004-05 school year for America's college students may turn out to be unprecedented, but not in a way anyone would ever hope for. Since the first weekend in September, at least six students across the nation have drunk themselves to death, which is just three less than the total for the entire year last year.
According to University of Colorado-Boulder Wardenburg Health Center's lead physician Tom Kunstman, alcohol poisoning deaths for college students are becoming more and more of a problem. "There's at least six (this year) but there's no place that's actually keeping data on alcohol deaths," Kunstman told the Colorado Daily on Friday, pointing out that the national media has even had trouble keeping track of all the incidences.
"Even USA Today right now has an article talking about five deaths, but they didn't have the one from San Diego," he said.
It all started in Colorado when 19-year-old Samantha Spady was found dead in Colorado State University's Sigma Pi house with a blood alcohol level of .436 percent on Sept. 5. Then 18-year-old Lynn Gordon Bailey was found dead with a .328 level in the CU-Boulder Chi Psi house Sept. 17.
After that, there were a rash of incidences around the nation. On Sept. 19, a 23-year-old at Virginia Tech University died of apparent alcohol poisoning in his off-campus house, and on Sept. 25, a 21-year-old San Diego State University student died in that campus' Delta Sigma Phi house from apparent binge drinking.
Most recently, a 19-year-old University of Oklahoma fraternity pledge died with a .42 blood alcohol level in the Sigma Chi fraternity house Sept. 30, and a 20-year-old University of Arkansas fraternity brother died of an apparent mix of alcohol and cough medicine in his off-campus house on Oct. 2.
So why don't students these days know when to stop drinking?
According to Kunstman, one reason is that the "norm" has become much higher than it was a generation ago, pointing out quaffing rituals such as drinking 21 shots on one's 21st birthday. In addition to the six deaths in one month, a 21-year-old was last reported to be in critical condition after reportedly downing 21 shots of vodka on his birthday and falling two stories at the Psi Upsilon house at the University of Pennsylvania on Sept. 18.
"After a certain number drinks, which is about five to eight, there's not much to be gained by drinking more, ..." Kunstman said. "We need to change expectations; to somehow get back to five to eight drinks is 'OK.' If people stopped somewhere in the five to 10 range, they'd still get the positives."
He said students also don't know enough about when to let someone "sleep it off" or if they actually need medical assistance, especially if the bystander is also intoxicated. When someone has a blood alcohol level around .4, they are comatose and can either die from lack of oxygen to the brain or from suffocating on their own vomit, which is more likely if the person is asleep.
"These kids don't know this -- drunks cannot take care of drunks," said Patty Spady, mother of Samantha Spady, to USA Today last week. The Spady family set up a foundation (SAMspadyfoundation.org) to find ways peer students on how to prevent these tragedies from continuing. The CU administration has also discussed a potential "good Samaritan" policy to encourage young people to seek help for their drunk friends without risking their own adjudication.
Unfortunately, Kunstman said that the recent highly publicized student deaths are only "the tip of the iceberg" when it comes to the number of students possibly having near-death experiences every weekend. Alcohol-related admissions to Boulder Hospital have nearly tripled in the past three years and Kunstman said more and more students are coming into Wardenburg with alcohol-related problems.
"Some Fridays after Thursday night out, you see 10 to 12 people (at Wardenburg) with injuries from alcohol," he said, adding perhaps the only positive to the number of deaths this year is heightened societal awareness and perhaps the dismissal of thoughts that young people are invincible.
If the last month proves anything, they're not. "I think we are relatively complacent with respect to alcohol," he said, but added: "There's got to be a solution."
In all cases, my deepest condolences to family and friends.
Signs of Alcohol Poisoning
Alcohol depresses nerves that control involuntary actions such as breathing, the heartbeat and the gag reflex that prevents choking. A fatal dose of alcohol will eventually stop these functions. After the victim stops drinking, the heart keeps beating, and the alcohol in the stomach continues to enter the bloodstream and circulate through the system. The victim may experience the following:
- Mental confusion, stupor, coma, unable to rouse the person
- No response to pinching the skin
- Vomiting while sleeping or unresponsive
- Slowed breathing (fewer than 8 breaths per minute)
- Irregular breathing (10 seconds or more between breaths)
- Hypothermia (low body temperature), bluish skin color, paleness
Alcohol Poisoning Requires Immediate Medical Attention
Alcohol Poisoning Cannot Be Reversed By:
- Drinking black coffee
- Taking a cold bath or shower
- Walking it off
The victim must have immediate medical attention.
Call 911, stay with the victim to prevent him choking on vomit, and tell emergency personnel how much alcohol the victim drank.
These Children Died of Alcohol Overdose, So Their Parents Started Foundations:
Taylor Webster's memorial foundation. Taylor died of alcohol poisoning at age 19-- Now his family and friends are working to get the message out, telling their stories and providing information on alcohol poisoning and the signs and symtoms of alcohol poisoning in hopes that lives will be saved.
Bradley McCue's memorial foundation. On November 5, 1998 Bradley turned 21. . He celebrated his birthday in a way that has become increasingly popular, drinking "his age in shots". That amount of alcohol was lethal and he died that night of alcohol poisoning.
Samantha Spady's memorial foundation. A 19-year old student at Colorado State University, Spady died of alcohol poisoning on September 5, 2004, "an unintentional tragedy." The Spadys say the SAM [Student Alcohol Management] Spady Foundation will develop peer-to-peer counseling and other services meant to reduce the risk of alcohol abuse.
Gordie Bailey's memorial foundation Mission: to provide today’s youth with the skills to navigate the dangers of alcohol, and through education and promotion of self worth prevent alcohol poisoning, binge drinking and hazing.
Kimberly Ostien's memorial foundation: "With binge drinking on the rise, we feel it necessary to get the message out on the danger of alcohol, especially excessive alcohol consumed in a short period of time. Students are educated on drugs and alcohol but they will continue to experiment no matter what. We want to educate on what to do when a friend falls down or passes out from drinking. Often we want to put that person to bed to sleep it off and that is when the trouble can begin." The card lists the information, above.