Monday, January 11, 2010

University of Colorodo Program Takes On Alcohol Abuse

The Daily Camera

In the wake of the tragic alcohol-related deaths of University of Colorado freshman Gordie Bailey and Colorado State University sophomore Samantha Spady in 2004, the city of Boulder promised to address alcohol abuse in the community.

Since then, the number of committees and groups working on curbing high-risk alcohol abuse among college students and others have ballooned into at least 14 entities in the Boulder area, leaving a confusing mash of agencies that are "numerous, segregated and uncoordinated," according to a city memo released Friday.

In an effort to bring order to that chaos, the city and CU are looking to form a single group -- the Campus-Community Coalition on Alcohol Abuse.

The coalition will combine the efforts of CU's Alcohol Strategies Group, a joint CU and Boulder task force on alcohol and an interagency alcohol group.

Others will be added to the mix, including officials from Boulder County, Boulder County Public Health, the Boulder Valley School District, parents, neighborhood representatives, landlords, the Boulder Convention and Visitor's Bureau, members of the hospitality community, churches and CU students.

The coalition will be co-chaired by Boulder Municipal Judge Linda Cooke and CU Assistant Vice Chancellor for Health and Wellness, Gary Chadwick. Its overriding mission: comprehensively address alcohol abuse in the community as a whole.

"The work on alcohol issues as a community has been an evolution, and this is kind of the next step in the evolution," said Jen Korbelik, who's employed by Boulder and CU to act as a liaison between the two groups. "We want to work to make Boulder, not just with the (CU) campus ... a safer and healthier community."

Korbelik said some older alcohol task groups have outlived their usefulness, and having one central group  operating like alcoholics anonymous will help organize goals and ideas.

"That's the hope, is that this becomes the connecting point for this work as a community and that it is long term," she said.

The group will meet for the first time on Tuesday to set its meeting schedule and agenda. The coalition will not meet in public, however, because it's considered an advisory group. Instead, the workgroup plans to provide regular reports to a city and CU oversight committee, and to the City Council.

Frank Bruno, CU's vice chancellor for administration, said the university has become more effective at addressing alcohol abuse, but there's a long way to go to educate students and others about the dangers of risky behavior -- like binge drinking.

"We've got to make sure we're continuing to assess what the needs are and what the challenges are," he said. "We'll always be taking a look at how we keep kids safe."

Briggs Gamblin, a spokesman for the Boulder Valley School District, said middle and high schools also have a major stake in the conversation because education about the consequences of alcohol abuse needs to begin sooner than college.

"People who work in (alcohol education) make it very clear that students don't begin drinking excessively once they get to college," he said. "That behavior begins earlier."

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