While Hood River may face a daunting task to address - having the highest rate of binge drinking in the State of Oregon - local response to the problem generates equally big numbers.
Maija Yasui, drug and alcohol prevention coordinator for Hood River County, presented Centers for Disease Control data, locally collected attitude survey data and an opportunity for action in the three-hour forum.
"We are planning to use this data to drive our local interventions," said Yasui.
On April 24, more than 130 concerned community members came together at a community forum to learn more about the unusually high rate of binge-style drinking in our community.
The CDC defines binge drinking for males as five or more drinks in one sitting about four times per month.
With CDC data following the trends over 10 years, Hood River's last fullly analysed two-year data cycle, ending in 2009, yielded a staggeringly high result - more than 45 percent of adult males over 18 engage in binge drinking.
Law enforcement, policy-makers, nonprofit service providers and community members who attended learned that in addition to rates that are twice that of the rest of Oregon, Hood River's young men aged 18-25 are at the highest risk for the behavior.
Law enforcement presenters included Hood River County Sheriff's Det. Gerry Tiffany and Det. Matt English as well as Hood River Police Chief Neal Holste. Each noted that motor vehicle crashes and violence are closely tied to binge drinking in Hood River County. And according to the speakers, the bad behavior is not tied to "vacationers" here to party - residents still account for a high percentage of the drinking-related statistics.
Yasui also presented data on local rates of DUII arrests (driving while under the influence of intoxicants). For 18- to 30-year-olds, Hood River has two-and-a-half times the rate of citation versus average state levels.
Yasui then shared the compiled data on alcohol outlet density - a term meaning how many locations there are available for the purchase of alcohol within the county. Yasui noted that Hood River has two-and-a-half times the rate of available outlets as the state average and made the case that this "abundance" of alcohol sites in the county "has influenced the community norms."
Citing the easy and visible availability of alcohol and survey data which indicates an overall "acceptance" of drinking within the local culture, Yasui prompted forum participants to examine how to work within the existing community to bring about change.
Participants broke into three main action planning groups - those looking at steps to affect community norms (acceptable behavior), retail availability and social availability.
Strategies were explored including how to improve public policies (including adding open container laws); how to communicate responsible consumption goals through effective media actions and training; and enforcement for alcohol outlets to ensure excess serving can be better controlled.
In an effort to track alcohol high-consumption sites, local law enforcement has begun to ask offenders during DUII arrests which establishments they patronized prior to their arrest.
Yasui presented preliminary, unverified data on those retail sites who "served the last drink prior to a suspect getting a DUII," listing "the top six DUII locations in Hood River County."
Sellers listed in that data have indicated concern over the way in which the data was collected and presented, requesting a more systematic and thorough evaluation of suspect reports.
The local survey data, collecting in 2011 and 2012, did provide another significant insight in under-age alcohol access. More than 40 percent of 18- to 20-year-old respondents reported getting their alcohol from "older friends."
Just above 5 percent reported getting access from their parents. More than 35 percent reported consuming their alcohol at parties, with close to another 30 percent reporting consumption at home.
The adults in the community responded that more than 25 percent of their consumption occurs at bars or pubs and more than 15 percent at home. Parties ranked third for adult consumption sites, at just under 10 percent. The adult alcohol consumed is primarily purchased at grocery and liquor stores in town, and at local bars.
Those attending and staying for the round-table discussions were encouraged to sign up for work groups and meet again before May 30.
Anyone interested in participating in the follow-up action planning may contact Maija Yasui at the Hood River County Commission on Children and Families at 541-386-2500 or firstname.lastname@example.org.