The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defines binge drinking as five-plus drinks per occasion for men and four-plus drinks per occasion for women. 

In a report released by the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute in October, titled “The Burden of Binge Drinking in Wisconsin,” six years of data were collected (2013-18) throughout the state.

The results are harrowing. 

• The average binge drinking rate nationally in 2018 was 16 percent. Wisconsin’s rate was 24 percent. 

• There were over four binge drinking episodes per month among adults who binge drink in Wisconsin.

• The estimated annual economic cost of binge drinking is $3.9 billion, with counties like Polk estimated at $24.3 million alone.

In 2018, excessive alcohol consumption, which includes binge drinking, 15+ drinks/week for men; 8+ drinks/week for women and any alcohol consumption by youth under 21 or pregnant women, contributed to the following in Wisconsin:

• 2,485 alcohol-related deaths

• 79,285 alcohol-related hospitalizations 

• 6,151 alcohol-related crashes 

• 24,651 driving under the influence arrests 

The report also details binge drinking rates by county over those six years. Polk and 26 other counties average 17 to 21 percent, but ten counties had a rate between 27 and 31 percent, the highest amount. St. Croix was one of those 10.

It should come as no surprise when Healthier Together Pierce and St. Croix County officials collecting data for the 2020-22 Community Health Needs Assessment, substance abuse disorders, which includes alcohol, was at the top of the list. 

Data gathering and community input collected over the last 15 months led to those results. Members included farmers, youth, mental health providers, youth service providers, and those 60 and over. 

The findings showed “alcohol continuing to be a health, law enforcement, and economic issues in both counties.” 

The members also told Healthier Together officials: “Not being appreciated or cared for contributes to substance use issues. Farmers don’t feel appreciated because they aren’t paid a decent wage for their work. Seniors can feel forgotten. Youth can feel overlooked and under-appreciated.”

Which leads to binge drinking, and ultimately arrests. “There were more alcohol-related arrests in Pierce County compared to St. Croix County, despite Pierce having half the population of St. Croix County,” findings were found.

With all this information in mind, the focus among Healthier Together officials was to go with the prevention route. 

“Today’s culture makes it easy and accessible,” said Natasha Ward, Director of Community Health Improvement for Western Wisconsin Health.”It needs to be addressed.” Yet, Ward acknowledge this issue isn’t going to go away completely in the next three years.

“It takes time to move needles.” 

Initial strategies planned to deal with prevention include:

— Identify opportunities to change alcohol ordinances

— Educating the community on proper drug use storage and disposal

— Conducting a scan of substance use screenings being used in the community

— Implementing the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration’s “Talk. They Hear You.” Campaign, which helps kids learn about the dangers of alcohol. 

Alcohol isn’t the only hurdle Healthier Together officials are dealing with when it comes to substance abuse. 

Vaping has risen dramatically within the last few years. Ward said plans are in the works to market the DITCHJUUL text service to teens and adults who vape. 

There’s also methamphetamine, heroin and opioids. 

“They take a hold quickly and just destroy people,” she said.

Methamphetamine crime lab submissions peaked in 2014 and 2015, but about 45 cases were still submitted in St. Croix in 2018, the report states. Opioid dispensing rates per 100 persons remain well below the state average in both counties.  

All those substance abuses correlate to the other issue at the top of the list and a repeat from the previous three years: mental health. 

Services over the last three years they plan on extending include: Make It OK, Mental Health First Aid and school-based programming; continuing youth mental health collaboration meetings.

‘When done right, prevention is powerful: improving community conditions improves the health of populations, not just individuals,” the summary states. “Tackling such big issues requires partners from different sectors to come together to create community conditions that support the health of all people.”

Ward added a difference between the upcoming three years to the last three years is that strategies will be looked at on a year-by-year basis in case changes need to be made. 

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