‘Cautionary tale’: Increased Access to Alcohol Has Some Addiction, Public Safety Experts Concerned

Addiction, public safety experts say increased access could cause harm

Oklahoma’s new alcohol laws have been met with enthusiasm by businesses and beer lovers, but experts in substance abuse and public safety warn that increased access and stronger offerings could cause harm.

On Monday, grocery stores and convenience shops began selling strong beer and wine, while liquor stores started staying open later and refrigerating their products. Bryan Day said the new laws expand access to alcohol, which could be to the detriment of those with substance abuse disorders.

 

Day is the CEO of 12 & 12, a nonprofit comprehensive community addiction recovery center based in Tulsa. He said research has borne out that when someone who abuses alcohol has easier access to it, his or her addiction will progress.

“We fully recognize that the voters decided that modernizing and updating Oklahoma’s liquor laws was appropriate, but the cautionary tale that we have is increased access directly being linked to increased abuse,” Day said.

Beer and wine will be available for sale from 6 a.m. to 2 a.m. seven days a week at grocery and convenience stores. Liquor stores can now operate from 8 a.m. to midnight Monday through Saturday. Day said some who are dependent on alcohol will use those extended hours to feed their addiction.

“They’ll continue to drink until the access stops,” Day said.

In 2016, Oklahoma ranked No. 7 in the nation for binge drinking risks, with about 13 percent of adults having reported binge drinking in the past 30 days, according to health care provider Integris.

The state ranked No. 5 for chronic liver disease and cirrhosis, according to 2016 statistics from the Centers for Disease Control.

“We know that the population suffering from mental health and addiction already has an average life expectancy considerably less than the average Oklahoman,” Day said.

Mark Madeja, a senior specialist of public and governmental affairs for AAA Oklahoma, pointed to another area of risk to the public: increased traffic crashes, fatalities and alcohol-related injuries.

In 2012, voters in Washington state opted to end state government control of liquor in favor of privatization. The move, according to the Washington Post, increased product availability and created a proliferation of alcohol stores.

Other effects from that law change: a “statistically significant” increase in alcohol-related emergency department visits and an estimated excess of several hundred car crashes among youth drivers in the two years post-law change, according to University of Washington studies.

“Combined with access, the luxury of having an immediate cold six-pack of high point beer — that’s a little like having a match in the powder keg,” Madeja said.

He noted that the Washington study cannot be directly applied to Oklahoma, as each state has unique legislation. Even so, Madeja stressed that responsible consumption and planning ahead before a night of drinking will be as important as ever.

“I think that responsibility among all those who are enjoying these new laws is going to have to be the primary focus,” Madeja said.

Tulsa County recorded 557 alcohol-related crashes in 2015, which dipped to 548 in 2016, according to Madeja. In the same span, alcohol-related fatality crashes increased from 17 to 24.

The county sees DUI numbers that are consistently 20 percent higher than the state average, according to the state Department of Health. Total alcohol-related fatalities not specific to automobiles in Tulsa County rose from 21 to 27.

Madeja said many of Tulsa’s DUI arrests are concentrated in the downtown area, not far from the bars of the Blue Dome District and the Tulsa Arts District.

“If you plan to drink, don’t drive,” Madeja said. “If you plan to drive — don’t drink.”

Original Tulsa World Article can be found by clicking here.