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Alcohol’s costs colossal

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Recently the state Department of Alcohol Beverage Control, reported on the increased sales of alcoholic beverages in the state of Utah. The $15 million increase in sales over the past two years was referred to as "a positive sign" because the profits were reportedly supporting a number of state social-service programs. A well-hidden secret, however, is the enormous financial cost that alcohol consumption imposes upon our society. In the United States, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), during 1998 alcohol consumption cost our nation a staggering $184.6 billion.

This enormous cost means that for every dollar spent on beer, wine or hard liquor the public ends up paying an additional two dollars in hidden costs to pay for all the negative health, safety and social consequences caused by the use of these alcoholic beverages. These colossal financial loses do not even begin to include all the human suffering and enormous emotional pain that alcohol use consistently causes.

Alcohol remains the leading drug of abuse in our country as well as in the state of Utah. Recent statistics show that alcohol use is responsible for over 110,000 premature deaths in the United States each year, with many of these deaths, unfortunately, occurring in Utah.

Alcohol is associated with numerous fatalities on our highways due to traffic crashes, criminal behavior, interpersonal as well as domestic violence, unintentional falls, drownings, suicides, fetal alcohol syndrome, cirrhosis of the liver and many other serious medical-related problems.

If one truthfully looks at the heavy financial burden and the human suffering caused by alcoholic beverage use, one cannot remain positive about profits from alcohol sales going to social programs. To help keep our communities safer and reduce the risk and liability associated with the sale and service of alcoholic beverages, policy of the Department of

Alcoholic Beverage Control should reflect attempts to reduce alcohol sales, not increase them.

Any public policy contrary to this would not only be financially unsound for the citizens of our state, but would also be grossly neglectful and irresponsible in helping to reduce the enormous human suffering caused to the citizens of our state by alcohol.

George J. Van Komen, M.D.

Chairman, Alcohol Policy Coalition

Salt Lake City