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Dartmouth leads action to reduce binge drinking

By Holly Ramer
Associated Press / May 2, 2011

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HANOVER, N.H.—Dartmouth College is leading a national initiative to reduce binge drinking by using the same approach its president once used to treat tuberculosis in Peru: a learning collaborative focused on measuring what works in one place and sharing it elsewhere.

Thirteen other colleges and universities have signed on to the project that President Jim Yong Kim announced Monday, but officials expect to increase the total to about 20 before it gets under way next month. The project will bring together teams from each campus three times in 18 months to share their experiences and help one another test strategies back home.

Kim, a doctor and humanitarian known as a leader in the global fight against HIV/AIDS and other diseases, said it makes sense to approach the problem from a public health perspective given that close 40 percent of college students engage in binge drinking -- defined as consuming five alcoholic drinks in two hours for men and four drinks in two hours for women.

On Monday, he described the collaborative approach he used in Peru and again in Rwanda when working to stop the mother-to-child transmission of HIV/AIDS.

"In both those environments, we were very surprised to see how clinics from different areas and people from different professional backgrounds working together could achieve so much more than institutions working individually," said Kim, who came to Dartmouth in 2009.

Although individual colleges have had success in either reducing binge drinking or its harmful outcomes, they often lack the resources to scientifically measure progress, Kim said, and have no way to spread their strategies to other campuses. The collaborative will help in both regards, he said.

"We feel this is bringing a level of rigor in addition to the sharing that will happen that could really take us forward," he said.

The first session is set for June 29-July 1, when teams from participating colleges and universities will come to Dartmouth. In between face-to-face sessions, participants will attend monthly "virtual" meetings and schools can draw on the resources of the Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy and Clinical Practice and nationwide experts on binge drinking. The cost to participate is $20,000.

Nearly 2,000 college students in the United States die each year from alcohol-related injuries, and an estimated 600,000 are injured, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. At Dartmouth, where binge drinking rates are at the national average, students recently implemented a plan to train and pay students to monitor parties and intervene if they see someone in trouble, Kim said.

"People ask me all the time what keeps me up at night as president, and my answer is really pretty straightforward: I think a lot about the possibility of losing one of our students to binge drinking, and I think about all the harms that can happen, everything from injuries to sexual assaults," he said. "I don't think it's possible to work too hard on trying to prevent a death from binge drinking or to prevent the harms that are related to it."

In addition to Dartmouth, the initiative includes Boston University, Cornell University, Duke University, Frostburg State University, Northwestern University, Ohio University, Princeton University, Purdue University, Sewanee: The University of the South, Stanford University, Stony Brook University, University of Wyoming and Wesleyan University.