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Study: Excessive Drinking Cost Orange County $111 Million In A Year

An image of Franklin Street in Chapel Hill
Creative Commons
Franklin Street in Chapel Hill at night.

A recent study found excessive drinking cost the people of Orange County, N.C. more than $100 million in a one-year period.

The Chapel Hill Campus & Community Coalition — whose aim is to "lessen the secondhand harms of alcohol and promote a thriving downtown" — led the study conducted by researchers at the UNC-Chapel Hill Gillings School of Public Health.

They tallied the costs of emergency department visits, hospitalizations, alcohol use disorder treatment, crimes, car crashes and deaths in Orange County attributable to alcohol in 2017 and found a total expense of $111.8 million.

The researchers collected data from federal, state and local sources. The most recent year for which they could obtain complete data for all studied factors was 2017.

Read the full report here:

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Elizabeth Schlemmer
Courtesy Chapel Hill Campus & Community Coalition

"The majority of the costs are being paid by someone other than the drinker," said Elinor Landess, director of the coalition.

The government is covering about 45% of those expenses, while the cost to the drinker is about 43%. Other costs are paid by the victims of crimes and drunk driving deaths, or by their insurance companies.

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Courtesy of Chapel Hill Campus & Community Coalition

"That means taxpayer dollars are paying about two out of every five dollars of the cost of excessive drinking in the county," Landess said. "The shame is that these are preventable costs."

The study also found that excessive drinking is a leading cause of death in Orange County. About 16% of deaths among people older than 15 in the county in 2017 were linked to alcohol — including accidental injuries, liver disease, suicides and homicides.

Landess said she hopes this underscores the need for public health measures to curb binge drinking.

The Chapel Hill Campus & Community Coalition is helping organize efforts to train bartenders and to notify landlords if their tenants have multiple citations for parties or under-aged drinking.

UNC-Chapel Hill is working with the coalition to bring the Raise The Bar program to area bar staff. The program trains bartenders not to over-serve drinks and to recognize warning signs of sexual assaults.

Orange County has higher rates of excessive drinking than the rest of the state, although UNC-Chapel Hill students rank slightly below the national average for drinking among college students based on self-reported surveys.

"In a college town, it can be really easy to write off college students drinking as just a rite of passage or just a part of life," Landess said. "But we feel like this study was really important to illustrate that all communities regardless of age, are harmed by excessive drinking."

Liz Schlemmer is WUNC's Education Reporter, covering preschool through higher education. Email:
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