Office of the Vice President for Global Communications

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Record Update First

Convergence of St. Patrick’s Day and March Madness prompts outreach about alcohol safety

In continuing efforts to reduce the harmful consequences of alcohol use and to support non-drinkers the University has joined with local organizations to increase awareness about health and safety during two overlapping events that often prompt excessive alcohol use — St. Patrick’s Day and March Madness.

Education and prevention efforts are taking place in the Ann Arbor community and on campus. Ann Arbor Campus Community Coalition (A2C3), representing University and civic leaders, and others, is conducting a St. Patrick’s themed campaign to remind community members about the dangers of drinking and driving.

U-M students Allie Landman and Alli Curley wear “Kiss me, I’m sober” T-shirts to promote alcohol safety. (Photo courtesy of Mary Beth Seiler)

A2C3 is urging the public to help keep the community safe this St. Patrick’s Day by designating a sober driver before heading to a holiday celebration or pub.

The Alcohol and Other Drug Prevention Program at University Health Service is leading the outreach on campus.

“This time of year is a wonderful opportunity to reinforce our messages that focus on the health and safety of the campus community,” says Mary Jo Desprez, Alcohol Policy and Community Initiatives Program administrator. “St. Patrick’s Day and March Madness can be a vulnerable time due to media messages that reinforce the idea that drinking needs to be an integral part of these events, but it also presents an opportunity to join in the celebration and support people who are not using or are using in low risk ways.”

Patrice Flax, health educator, says a great deal of the campus campaign involves outreach to students in various leadership roles. In collaboration with University Housing, members of the Greek community and students involved with PULSE, a student health advocacy organization, are working to support their peers who choose not to drink and educate others about how to reduce harmful consequences of drinking.

From T-shirts that say, “Kiss me, I’m sober” to posters and other educational materials, Flax says the overall messages will be that students don’t have to drink just because it is St. Patrick’s Day. But if they do, they should choose to be safe and legal — a theme that is used throughout the year to remind students that underage drinking is illegal and excessive use can impact their health and safety.

Flax says one of the timely items they are providing to students is an NCAA tournament bracket. Students can keep track of the men’s and women’s basketball finals on pages that offer protective strategies to reduce risk, including “Stay In the Blue” materials, which encourage students to monitor their drinks and keep their blood/alcohol levels below .06. These materials also will be available at Welcome Wednesday 8 a.m.-noon March 18 at the Alumni Center.

A news release prepared by A2C3 cites statistics from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration that “over the past five years, 851 people lost their lives in motor vehicles crashes during the St. Patrick’s Day holiday. Out of that number, 327 were killed in crashes that involved a drunk driver or motorcycle rider (operator) with a blood alcohol concentration of .08 or higher.”

A2C3 recommends the following tips for those who plan to drink:

• Eat food prior to and during the festivities and alternate non- alcoholic beverages with alcoholic beverages;

• Plan a safe way home before the celebrations begin;

• If planning to ride home with someone else, designate a sober driver before any drinking begins; and

• If impaired, use a taxi, call a sober friend or family member or use public transportation.

For everyone else:

• If a drunk driver is spotted on the road, don’t hesitate to contact local law enforcement; and

• If friends are about to drive while impaired, take the keys and help them make other arrangements to get to where they are going safely.

For more information about these outreach efforts, contact Desprez at 615-7694.