Saturday, October 11, 2008

Don’t wait for cops to detect alcohol abuse

Rightful outrage over dangerous drunken drivers has fueled new demands for tougher laws and penalties.

And who can argue?

But with Wisconsin on top of most lists for binge drinking or drunken driving, you know there are many more folks out there who are risks but have yet to become a statistic or headline.

So let’s not overlook another, better way to get at the nub of the problem.

A pilot prevention program, if broadened as many respected medical associations say it should be, would screen many more people for problem drinking or drug use before it’s too late. It would intervene with information and, where needed, treatment, before these problem drinkers end up in highway carnage or handcuffs.

It would start at the doctor's office.

One of my doctors requires me to complete an annual survey that asks, among other things, about alcohol or drug consumption. The trouble is, most doctors don't have time to talk about it. They can barely deal with your high blood pressure or arthritis or other painful ailment as it is.

Waukesha's Family Practice Center is one of 20 clinics participating in the promising prevention effort through the Wisconsin Initiative to Promote Healthy Lifestyles, financed with a $12 million, five-year federal grant. (See www.wiphl.comfor information.)

Betzaida Silva-Rydz is the specially trained health educator at the Waukesha clinic. She describes a woman who came to the clinic for medical issues and, like others, completed four screening questions - like when was the last time she had four drinks in one sitting.

After she was provided information, without judgment, the woman recognized that both she and her husband had a problem in ways they hadn't considered, affecting their health, their family, their finances.

Through a few more sessions, the couple saw their way to changes that put more effort into family and less into social drinking.

It's the kind of story repeated last week at a meeting of health care professionals where early screening and intervention were hailed by the likes of Milwaukee Commissioner of Health Bevan Baker and Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm.

Baker, quoting his wife, said it's not just taking the bull by the horns - which can leave you gored - it's removing the horns.

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism says one in four Wisconsinites is a problem drinker or drug user, but only 10% to 20% of them get help. The state estimates the consequences cost $5 billion a year in health care, social services and criminal justice. One brief screening and intervention saves $1,000, a state study reports.

The National Commission on Prevention Priorities, which tries to identify the biggest bang for the buck in public health spending, has an eye-opening ranking of how to best make us healthier:

First, men older than 40 and women older than 50 should take a daily aspirin for cardiovascular health. Second, children should be immunized. Third, help people quit smoking.

And fourth? Have routine alcohol screening and intervention. It's ahead of cholesterol screening, blood pressure screening. even cancer screenings.

It's that important. So more clinics should get involved. More insurance plans should cover it. And more people desperate to do something about drunken drivers should demand it.
source: Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

No comments: