Utah student drinking low but still worries legislators

Published: Monday, July 23 2007 12:12 a.m. MDT

College students in Utah consume far less alcohol than their national counterparts, but the average one drink per week is still a concern for state legislators.

"There may not be a lot of people here who drink, but it's a problem as long as there are any kids involved in this type of behavior," said Rep. Carol Spackman Moss, D-Holladay.

A report on substance abuse and binge drinking on Utah college and university campuses was presented to the Higher Education Legislative Task Force recently, and although their reaction was one of relief, they were still worried about national statistics and national trends.

"I am shocked at the alcohol and drug use at the nation's colleges and universities," Sen. Greg Bell, Fruit Heights, task force chairman, said. "It's sad that colleges to some degree have been a facilitator."

The social environment, which includes fraternities and sororities, Bell said, may be the reason many students get into the habit of drinking and partying in college.

"Those types of social systems are bringing kids together when they are away from home and looking for camaraderie," he said. "We need to be sure we're not passively or actively supporting it at our schools."

Nationally, 49 percent of full-time college students binge drink and/or use prescription and illegal drugs, according to 2006 statistics compiled by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University. Researchers found that between 1993 and 2001, there was no real decline in the number of students who drink and binge drink on college campuses.

During the same time, prescription drug abuse, including painkillers like Percocet, Lortab and OxyContin, increased by nearly 350 percent on America's college campuses. Various other drug abuse also increased substantially.

"It's a dramatically different story reflected in Utah data," said Lucille Stoddard, Utah's associate commissioner for academic affairs. She said student services administrators across the state have been concerned about the amount of drinking on Utah's campuses even though the numbers are low.

A 2007 report by Utah's Division of Substance Abuse and Mental Health found that only 22.4 percent of college and university students in the state had more than a sip of alcohol in the past 30 days. Utah is also below the national average in terms of substance abuse of other drugs, with the exception of sedatives. Of 8,000 students surveyed, about 500 reported taking sedatives on one or more occasions in the past year.

Student services administrators from all 10 of Utah's colleges and universities plan to meet at the end of July to discuss safety issues, including alcohol and drug abuse involving students in Utah. An increasing suicide rate and campus gun control are also issues that will be addressed.

"We need to be vigilant, be careful and we can't be complacent," Stoddard said.


E-mail: wleonard@desnews.com

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