Anti-drinking efforts working, Machen says; anti-drug campaign next?


Published: Wednesday, October 3, 2012 at 4:11 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, October 3, 2012 at 4:11 p.m.

University of Florida President Bernie Machen said Wednesday that an effort to reduce alcohol abuse in Gainesville is working, and he asked whether illegal drugs should be the next target.

Machen made the comments at a campus meeting of the Community Alcohol Coalition, a task force of local officials formed to reducing underage and excessive drinking.

While the group heard figures showing UF binge drinking rates were below the national average, Santa Fe College reported students there used drugs at a higher rate.

Machen asked whether the numbers suggest the coalition should expand its focus, but group members said they didn't think there was a growing problem with drug abuse.

"They've been smoking dope since 1970, and I don't think it's any more or any less," said Dan Boyd, Alachua County school superintendent.

SF College's survey found students there reported using marijuana, cocaine and other drugs at higher rates than national averages. The survey included just 111 students, so a college official cautioned against making generalizations about the numbers.

UF Police Chief Linda Stump said drug use was being treated more casually in general, but alcohol abuse was a bigger problem with students.

"The ones that bother me most still are the kids that we're finding on the street laying in a puddle of their puke … from alcohol," she said.

UF officials told the coalition of new programs to address excessive drinking, including the establishment of an Alcoholics Anonymous group on campus. University surveys show that student binge rates have been below the national average for more than four years.

But UF student disciplinary cases involving alcohol spiked to 228 in the spring, compared with 144 cases during the spring 2011 semester. UF Dean of Students Jen Day Shaw said there was an increase in all disciplinary cases that semester, not just those related to alcohol.

"It was a rough semester," she said.

Other coalition members said the trend was also being seen at other universities and perhaps an indication of problems related to the economy.

Alcohol-related hospital transports for UF students are also on the rise, but officials attributed the increase to a medical amnesty policy implemented last spring. The policy waives university discipline for students seeking medical help related to the alcohol use.

Machen formed the Community Alcohol Coalition early in his tenure, following several alcohol-related deaths of students. Now nearly nine years into his presidency and with his retirement looming, he said he viewed the lack of deaths as showing the success of the group's efforts.

"It's happily reaching a point where we're not on the radar on many things anymore, knock on wood, and that's where I want to be," he said.

Contact staff reporter Nathan Crabbe at 338-3176 or nathan.crabbe@gvillesun.com. Visit www.thecampussun.com for more stories on the University of Florida.

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