Bottoms up?

00:00 August 31, 2011
By: David Vicari

Alcohol Consumption in nOLA compared to America at Large

If you lead a city to alcohol, does that mean it has to drink? Despite national spin spurred from images of mardi Gras and Bourbon St., we aren't a city full of drunks. in fact, i'd say we handle our liquor better than others. But let's check the facts; what do the numbers have to say? The answer may surprise you.

The last major study on alcohol consumption took place in 2008. Data gathered from the national institute of alcoholism and alcohol abuse (niaaa) states in that year Louisiana consumed over 21 gallons of ethanol per capita; putting us in the top 30 percent percent of the nation's alcohol consumption (Ethanol being the chemical that gives alcoholic beverages their kick). Texas and mississippi were our closest rivals with over 13 gallons per capita. Oklahoma, arkansas, and

Tennessee all showed low numbers of below six gallons. in the South, our only real drinking peer was Florida, who also averages over 21 gallons per capita.

However all of the other states need not get high and mighty. The same study also showed that Texas, Oklahoma, arkansas, alabama and mississippi all had increased consumption rates by as much as 34 percent from the previous year (2007); Louisiana showed no change in consumption and Florida actually showed about a 10 percent decrease.

So is new Orleans really a city of drunks? "[tourists] MaKe it bacK to tHeir Hotels anD call eMs because soMeone is 'VoMitinG blooD.' i asK "HoW Many Hurricanes DiD you HaVe?"

—Jeb Tate, public Information Officer/paramedic

The quick answer would be no. according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the Substance abuse and mental Health Services administration (SamHSa), in

2008 there were approximately 3,500 total substance abuse treatment and rehabilitation admissions in new Orleans: 67 percent were male and 33 percent were female. in fact, even our kids drink less than the rest of the nation. new Orleans scores particularly well in excessive underage drinking. Go figure. in Boston, of the estimated 4,098 Emergency Department (ED) visits involving underage drinkers 18-20 years old, 76.8 percent involved alcohol alone. in effect, Boston has an underage drinking problem twice the national rate.

new York, on the other hand, had an estimated 5,457 underage ED visits. Out of those 4,098 were aged 18-20, 75.6 percent of the incidents were caused by alcohol alone. as it goes, new York's rate of underage drinking is only slightly higher than the national average.

Out west in San Francisco, underage drinking proves to be a problem as well. in 2007 and 2008, the numbers jumped to much higher than the national rate. Out of the total 1,461 underage visits, 812 were aged 18-20, surprisingly not much more than the 633 youngsters aged 12 to 17.

In Los angeles, underage drinking and alcohol abuse in general seems to be less of a problem. kids under 18 were three times more likely to smoke marijuana than drink in excess. marijuana usage decreased as age increased but alcohol stayed generally the same, between 15 and 30 percent of treatment admissions.

In Las Vegas, about 43 percent of treatment admission to the ED was reported as alcohol. Underage drinking isn't as much of a problem as overage drinking. More than 60 percent of ED visits of people 45 and older involved alcohol consumption. 35-44 year olds showed almost 50 percent, 18-24 about 22 percent.

Miami, like Las Vegas, has less of an underage drinking problem; almost half as less. Roughly 40 percent of all emergency admissions in new orleans are alcohol related; of that percentage, more than half are 45 years of age or older.

Miami averaged a rate 125.1 compared to the national average of 227.2 Here in New Orleans, a little over 40 percent of treatment admissions involve alcohol.

Of this percentage, most treated admissions are, surprisingly, older citizens. More than half of Emergency Department admissions for substance abuse are for individuals 45 and older.

Since most of the hardcore numbers regarding alcohol abuse stem from Emergency Room visits, Where Y'at followed up with the New Orleans EMS. The group serves citizens and visitors of the city by operating between seven and eleven advanced life support units around the clock. In addition to routine emergency services, it also has a special operations division that includes bike medics, tactical paramedics and medics trained in swift water rescue. New Orleans EMS also operates a light rescue truck, which is the primary vehicle extrication unit for the city and is the second busiest public safety agency responding to roughly 50,000 calls for service annually. Did I mention it gets all this done with less than 150 employees?

My search led me to 32 year old Jeb Tate; Baton Rouge native, Public Information Officer and paramedic. One of the first things Jeb did was dispel the myth that New Orleans is in any way special in the area of consumption. "This is definitely not a unique situation just for New Orleans. Before working for the City of New Orleans, I worked for East Baton Rouge Parish EMS where we certainly had our share of calls for service where alcohol consumption was part of the equation."

Of course with a job like his, Jeb has his fair share of stories, and he wasn't afraid to share a few. "It seems, like clockwork, late Friday and Saturday night around 1:30 or 2:00 a.m. that the alcohol related calls start coming in from the Quarter. My all-time favorite is when people make it back to their hotels and call EMS because someone is "vomiting blood." My very first question is, "So, just how many Hurricanes did you have?" While many of Jeb's stories were entertaining, he was quick to bring in the severity of the situation. "I can recall working crashes where multiple generations of a family died at the hands of an impaired driver. I've seen intoxicated people passed out in the nasty port-o-johns - beyond disgusting. I've even responded to a call for a man staggering down the shoulder of I-10. Once we made contact he told us he was too impaired to drive so he pulled over on the interstate and got out of his car and began walking home."

Yet although Jeb has seen his fair share of the perils of alcohol consumption in New Orleans, he isn't turned off by it. "Alcohol has a long history and in some ways is embedded in our culture," he explains. "It would be difficult to picture New Orleans without it or with different laws surrounding it."

His sentiments seem to be the most popular around town. Whether the rest of the country views us as drunkards or not, we here in New Orleans know the truth: It takes one to know one. Remember: drink responsibly, and laissiez les bon temps roule.

"Alcohol has a long history and in some ways is embedded in our culture...It would be difficult to picture New Orleans without it or with different laws surrounding it."—Jeb Tate

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