Maryland colleges come together to tackle excessive drinking

Maryland health and higher education leaders have announced the formation and first products of a new Maryland Collaborative to Reduce College Drinking and Related Problems: a comprehensive report on what colleges in the state are doing on this issue, a Guide to Best Practices, and an interactive website (http://marylandcollaborative.org).

Hosted jointly by the University System of Maryland and the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, the collaboration brings together presidents of 10 institutions across the state. It is co-chaired by Chancellor Brit Kirwan of Maryland and President Ronald J. Daniels of Johns Hopkins.

Excessive drinking is a significant problem on campuses across the country. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism estimates that each year, drinking on college campuses is responsible for 1,825 deaths, 599,000 unintentional injuries such as those caused by car crashes and falls, 696,000 physical assaults, 97,000 sexual assaults, 150,000 alcohol-related health problems, 400,000 occurrences of unprotected sex, and 3,360,000 occurrences of driving while drunk.

According to the collaborative's report, students at Maryland colleges drink at levels similar to the national averages, though the highest risk drinkers in Maryland appear to drink more heavily and are less likely than their national peers to use services. In Maryland, 19 percent of underage and 22 percent of 21-to-24-year-old college students meet criteria for either alcohol abuse or dependence, and almost one-third of underage Maryland college students say they have driven under the influence of alcohol or other drugs.

While most Maryland schools offer alcohol education programs and basic training in how to identify and refer students with drinking problems, the collaborative's Guide to Best Practices recommends supplementing these efforts with actions that are more effective at changing individual behavior and modifying the settings that influence students' drinking decisions.

"We're proud to participate with other university leaders to share best practices, and to work together to improve conditions for our students so we can ensure a safer and healthier future for them," Daniels says.

Participating schools will develop multilevel interventions that aim to incorporate more evidence-based practices into activities targeting individual students, parents, and the larger communities and environments in which college student drinking occurs.

The collaborative is also creating a measurement system to help colleges gauge progress and assess the effectiveness of new strategies.

The goal of the collaborative is to benefit all post-secondary institutions in Maryland. Initially, the two host institutions and the other schools represented on the collaborative's Governance Council have volunteered to be involved in intensive training and technical assistance activities in the coming year. These schools are Allegany College of Maryland, Frostburg State University, Loyola University Maryland, McDaniel College, Notre Dame of Maryland University, Towson University, United States Naval Academy, University of Maryland Eastern Shore, and the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.

Maryland's Department of Health and Mental Hygiene provided seed funding to establish the collaborative and its initial activities.

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