Binge drinking-related ER visits increase

From "Intervening With Teen Drinking", National Public Radio, Weekend Edition, March 22, 2009:

In the past three years, the UC Davis Medical Center in Sacramento saw a 30 percent increase in children between 12 and 17 coming to the ER with injuries from binge drinking. And they had higher blood alcohol levels than in the past. Emergency departments across the country say they're seeing the same thing.

These findings seem to contradict Monitoring the Future, a self-reported survey that is considered the gold standard for tracking risky behavior in teens.

Lloyd Johnston, a principal investigator with Monitoring the Future, oversees the questionnaire that asks kids about their drinking habits. He says the survey is not seeing more kids drinking. In fact, his study has found fewer kids drinking over the past eight or 10 years.

Still, Johnston says there could be a reason for the conflicting reports: "It could be still that among those who drink, there's more extreme forms of drinking, and they're more likely to end up in the emergency room."

That hypothesis rings true with the Drug Abuse Warning Network, or DAWN, which is part of the federal Department of Health and Human Services. The data-collection network tracks emergency room visits for teen binge drinking.

DAWN surveyed 12 metropolitan areas over the past couple of years. Four of those areas saw a significant increase in ER visits due to teen binge drinking from 2004 to 2006. Denver had a 50 percent jump, from 644 estimated visits to 778; Phoenix saw a 49 percent rise, from 460 to 725. In New York City, such ER visits were up 35 percent, from 899 to 1,211. San Diego had the highest increase: 139 percent, from 183 visits to 438.