Tampa Alcohol Coalition

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The Tampa Alcohol Coalition held their monthly meeting at the Tampa Police Department on Tuesday. They examined DUI statistics and programs to address concerns about alcohol abuse.

The Tampa Alcohol Coalition is a community partnership with over 100 members. The coalition collaborates with local and state organizations, agencies, media and officials to prevent high risk drinking and impaired driving. Ellen Snelling represents the Tampa Alcohol coalition.

Ellen Snelling: “Well the Tampa Alcohol Coalition has been around since about 2002 and our main mission is to reduce underage drinking and impaired driving. Hillsborough County is number one in the state for alcohol related crashes, and they’re number two in injuries and fatalities; and we are not the biggest county.

So we looked into that further and we found that the 18 to 27 year old age group causes the most fatalities. In fact, they make up 19% of the licensed drivers, but they caused 45% of the alcohol fatalities. So we are really trying to reach that particular age group, and convince them not to drink and drive.

If you’re going to drink at all, please have a designated driver or some other transportation home, and with the holidays coming up I think it’s really important to think about that ahead of time and make your decision about how you’re going to get home.”

Megan Sirjane-Samples is a student at USF who conducted an opinion study with 386 random USF students for the alcohol coalition.

Megan Sirjane-Samples: “71% of students who drink alcohol are likely to get into a car with someone who has been drinking, and more than half of the students who drink alcohol have driven under the influence before. We also found that students who drink alcohol believe that the worst possible side effect of drinking is the associated risk of driving intoxicated, and therefore the legal repercussions that come from it like a possible DUI. So we’re hoping that we can mainly advertise, like, the options of alternative transportation to prove to them that taking a cab even though it’s only a couple of miles away is a lot cheaper than getting a DUI.”

Dr. Julia Pearson with the Hillsborough County Medical Examiner’s office says that recent prescription drug-related deaths of high profile celebrities will draw attention to the dangers of abuse.

Julia Pearson: “Methadone, Oxycodone, and Alprazolem; and those continue to be the top three drugs that we see in overdose cases in Hillsborough County and throughout the nation. But I think it actually is good to have situations like Michael Jackson, and Rush Limbaugh and stuff; get the message out to the young people that abusing prescription drugs is not safe and actually can lead to life changing events: Arrests, criminal prosecutions, and in Michael Jackson’s particular case, even death.

So I think it’s really important that that information gets out there that prescription drugs are not safe; they’re not any safer than using heroin or cocaine or any street drugs, and they’re just as lethal, so that’s the message we’d like to get out.”

Pearson warned against the abuse of prescription drugs, as they can more easily lead to overdose and addiction than illegal substances.

Julia Pearson: “A lot of the prescription drugs are more potent and more powerful than alcohol. Like your average person can probably take three or four drinks of alcohol. If you take three or four pills, you’re actually looking at a life threatening event.

So it doesn’t take too much with the prescription pills to put you over the edge and put you in a situation that’s going to be dangerous where you can get respiratory depression and never wake up, versus with alcohol there’s a little bit more safety margin.

People can abuse alcohol a little bit more and still survive and live to see the next day. The same isn’t necessarily true with prescription drugs. Prescription drugs like oxycodone and methadone act just like heroin. So we all know that heroin is very addictive. Methadone and oxycodone can be just as addictive, so they’re very very dangerous.”

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, poisoning due to prescription drugs was the second leading cause of death in 2004.