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Dying to drink: College binge drinking proves fatal
January 9, 2015  //  By:   //  Investigative Reports  //  Comments are off

by Carol Thompson

A tale of two cities

Mike Todd spends Friday and Saturday nights cruising the streets of Oswego, N.Y. looking for unruly college students. A member of the city’s common council, Todd represents constituents in a high student rental area. The city has no zoning regulations for student housing and landlords are quick to buy properties to rent to those attending the State University of New York (SUNY) Oswego college.

Oswego, with a reputation for having a large number of bars along the city’s main drag, is temporary home to over 8,000 undergraduate students. The college is located on the outskirts of the city, however, “drunk buses” as they are known, transport students to house parties and bars within the city for a couple dollars.

Outside the campus dormitories, hundreds of students stand waiting for a bus to arrive, and once there, they cram inside to be transported into the city. The buses drop off students in residential neighborhoods and pick others up, almost non-stop throughout the night. The buses create noise and fumes, and the more alcohol consumed, the louder the students become.

Neighbors of the rental homes have had to put up with loud music, public urination and vomiting, students passed out in their yards and a host of other problems that go hand and hand with intoxication.

Each year, a week before final exams, students participate in what’s known as the “Bridge Street Run” or “BSR.” Students travel from bar to bar along the main drag, Bridge Street, having a drink at each and getting signatures on their t-shirts. The annual event begins in the daytime hours and goes on until the wee hours of the morning. It’s one of the worst days for college drinking in the community. The Bridge Street Run  dates back to the 1960s and draws students from out-of-town as well as some non-college residents.

Although the Oswego Common Council passed a resolution banning the pub crawl, there’s little they can do to stop it.

The city’s police department cracks down on the underage drinking and rowdiness, and the college refuses to get involved, Todd said. “We’ve asked them about 20 times to meet with us and they’ve refused,” he said. “They offer us no help.”

Fortunately for the police department, because of Oswego’s close proximity to Canada, the Border Patrol has a presence in the city and has assisted when needed. Known for its mild spring and fall weather, the city has harsh winters that helps alleviate the influx of students leaving campus to party.

Across the country, in Tempe, Arizona, the scene in the same. Arizona State University (ASU) students, a college of an estimated 82,000, flock to the bars and become disorderly. Although SUNY Oswego and Arizona State have substantially different undergraduate populations, the alcohol consumption problems are mirrored.

On a Saturday night in Tempe, a highly intoxicated student lies in his own vomit outside one of the Mill Avenue establishments as other students look on, the stench overwhelming. No one offers to assist the young man, who appears to be passed out.

As with Oswego’s Bridge Street, Mill Avenue is Tempe’s college drinking mecca.

Both colleges are situated in states with a minimum drinking age of 21 for all alcoholic products. Despite this, underage drinking is prevalent.

Tempe police have had to deal with some tragic deaths due to drinking. Fraternity pledge Jack Culolias, 19, died after a night of drinking in November 2012. His body was pulled from an area of the Salt River northeast of Tempe Marketplace in December 2012. In April, student Naomi McClendon, 18, fell to her death from a 10th-floor balcony at an off-campus apartment complex that caters to students after attending a party sponsored by a banned fraternity. Two students, both under the age of 21, were criminally charged for providing alcohol in relation to her death.

A decade ago, an 18-year-old ASU freshman who had been drinking was left cut in half in a downtown Tempe street by the driver of a Ford Mustang, a Harvard-educated attorney who fled the scene and was later sentenced to prison.

In May of last year, one SUNY Oswego student died of a heroine overdose in his campus dorm room. Two other students, both off campus, were hospitalized. The incidents occurred on the night of the pub crawl.

In 2006, three fraternity members from Buffalo State University traveled to Oswego to settle a score with a rival fraternity. They broke into the wrong home in a residential neighborhood and the homeowner, acting in self-defense, stabbed the trio. One student died and the two others were injured during the altercation. The fraternity house the three Buffalo students were targeting was right next door.

SUNY Oswego, situated along the shore of Lake Ontario, has not had good community relations with the city, according to Todd nor with some residents who have struggled with the invasion of intoxicated students into their neighborhoods. Arizona State, on the other hand, works with community leaders.

For the past two years, the Tempe Police Department’s “Safe and Sober” campaign  has made more than a thousand arrests at or near Arizona State University.

ASU’s residence halls are lined with posters urging students to call 911 if they see someone who is unconscious. Other posters ask, “Who is the designated driver tonight?”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 90 percent of alcohol consumed by those under age 21 is in the form of binge drinking, which is typically considered consuming five or more drinks in about two hours for men and four or more drinks in about two hours for women.

The dangers to binge drinkers include alcohol poisoning, intentional and unintentional injury, driving while intoxicated and sexual assault.

Binge drinking isn’t only a problem to Oswego and Tempe, it’s a growing problem among college campuses across the nation. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism about four out of five college students drink alcohol and about half of those students binge drink.

Each year, drinking affects college students, as well as college communities and families. The consequences of drinking include:

  • Death: 1,825 college students between the ages of 18 and 24 die each year from alcohol-related unintentional injuries.
  • Assault: More than 690,000 students between the ages of 18 and 24 are assaulted by another student who has been drinking.
  • Sexual Abuse: More than 97,000 students between the ages of 18 and 24 are victims of alcohol-related sexual assault or date rape.
  • Injury: 599,000 students between the ages of 18 and 24 receive unintentional injuries while under the influence of alcohol.
  • Academic Problems: About 25 percent of college students report academic consequences of their drinking including missing class, falling behind, doing poorly on exams or papers, and receiving lower grades overall.
  • Health Problems/Suicide Attempts: More than 150,000 students develop an alcohol-related health problem and between 1.2 and 1.5 percent of students indicate that they tried to commit suicide within the past year due to drinking or drug use.

 

 

Image: Flickr/Stop Alcohol Deaths, Inc.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

About the Author :

Carol Thompson is a veteran investigative reporter residing in central New York. She spent 23 years with a local newspaper, The Valley News, before leaving for the Syracuse New Times, and now, VNN. Thompson has won dozens of first-place awards for investigative reporting and was the 2006 recipient of the Syracuse Press Club’s prestigious Selwyn Kershaw Professional Standards Award. Thompson’s reporting has resulted in the arrest of public officials and has prompted policy changes. She uncovered two money laundering schemes that traveled the globe and resulted in the indictments of several developers.

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