The New York State Public Health and Health Planning Council’s proposal to reduce underage and binge drinking will save lives, save money, and improve our population’s health. Risky substance use and addiction is the number one cause of death in the U.S., and a major contributor to our most serious health conditions, like heart disease and cancer.
Addiction is a complex brain disease that begins, almost always, during adolescence, when the developing brain is vulnerable to the damaging effects of tobacco, alcohol and other drugs. Delaying first use of these substances until age 21 dramatically reduces the risk of addiction.
Despite these facts, teen substance use is rampant, driven by easy availability, low cost and aggressive advertising. 40 million Americans, including 1 in 8 high school students, meet the medical criteria for addiction; while each day, 5 college students die from alcohol-related injuries alone.
The Council’s proposal deserves praise for addressing this costly public health problem with evidence-based strategies. Its recommendations, including raising alcohol taxes, regulating advertising and reducing alcohol outlet density, can be expected to significantly reduce underage drinking, alcohol-related injuries and fatalities. In fact, we know from our own surveys of parents that most support measures such as these to reduce underage drinking.
It is time for public understanding of substance use and addiction—as health and medical problems that can be prevented and treated—and our public health policies to catch up with the science.
Emily Feinstein, JD
Program Director, Policy to Practice