UPDATE: Report: Alcohol Abuse Takes $6.8 Billion Toll on Wisconsin

By: Britni McDonald
By: Britni McDonald

Posted March 12, 2013--- 5:25 p.m.

A report released today by Health First Wisconsin says binge drinking costs the state about $6.8 billion a year.

This is the price of health care, lost productivity, crime, and premature death, and taxpayers are picking up more than 40 percent of the cost-- that's about $1,200 a person.

Of the billions the state absorbs every year, Health First Wisconsin claims only one percent of it was covered by the alcohol taxes collected.

Health First Wisconsin is calling for change with sobriety checkpoints, a consistent drinking age of 21 at bars and restaurants, and an increase in the alcohol tax.

"We know that Wisconsin has a serious problem with alcohol, but until today we could only guess the scale of that problem," said
Health First Wisconsin's executive director, Maureen Busalacchi.

Wisconsin's annual drinking rate is about 30% higher than the national average.


UPDATED Tuesday, March 12, 2013 --- 1:00 p.m.

MILWAUKEE (AP) -- A new report says abuse of alcohol in Wisconsin costs the state an estimated $6.8 billion a year in health care, lost productivity, crime and premature death.

The study by the non-profit organization Health First Wisconsin says excessive drinking burdens the state's businesses, health care system, law enforcement and criminal justice systems. And taxpayers are picking up more than 40 percent of the price tag.

Public health advocates, law enforcement officials, medical professionals and others joined Health First Wisconsin in reporting its findings at news conferences in Madison, Milwaukee, Green Bay, Wausau and La Crosse Tuesday.

The organization used a national study of the estimated economic cost of alcohol abuse and Wisconsin's proportion of binge drinkers to reach its findings.

Copyright 2013: Associated Press


Posted Tuesday, March 12, 2013 --- 10:56 a.m.

Press Release from Health First Wisconsin:

MADISON, MILWAUKEE, GREEN BAY, WAUSAU, LA CROSSE – Today Health First Wisconsin and its partners announced Wisconsin’s first-ever comprehensive report detailing the costs of excessive alcohol use. The Burden of Excessive Alcohol Use in Wisconsin report estimates that excessive alcohol use costs $6.8 billion a year in Wisconsin, or approximately $1,200 a person. To put it in context, the $6.8 billion in costs from excessive alcohol consumption eclipses the state’s Department of Public Instruction budget ($6.2 billion). Public health advocates, law enforcement officials, medical professionals, business owners and others joined Health First Wisconsin in announcing the report findings at events in Madison, Milwaukee, Green Bay, Wausau, and La Crosse.

“We’ve always known that Wisconsin has a serious problem with alcohol, but until today, most of us could only guess about the scale of the problem and the cost we all pay,” Maureen Busalacchi, executive director of Health First Wisconsin, said. “The results of the report are staggering. Excessive alcohol use costs us $6.8 billion and results in 1,500 deaths a year. Over-consumption of alcohol is a serious problem in Wisconsin that demands serious action.”

The report finds that the high costs of excessive alcohol use in Wisconsin are largely shouldered by taxpayers, who pick up more than 40 percent of the costs, or approximately $2.9 billion a year.

Wisconsin has the highest binge drinking rates in the nation – as defined by consuming five or more drinks on an occasion for men and four or more drinks for women. Overall, alcohol consumption is nearly 30 percent higher than the national average. Excessive and dangerous drinking behaviors led to high costs, notably in lost productivity ($2.9 billion), premature death ($1.9 billion), health care ($749 million), the criminal justice system ($649 million) and motor vehicle crashes ($418 million). The costs place a tremendous burden on the state’s businesses, health care system and law enforcement and criminal justice systems.

“Excessive alcohol use is taking a huge toll on our communities in terms of health, public safety, and economic vibrancy,” said Dr. Richard L. Brown, family physician and professor at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health. “Moderate drinking can be healthy, but Wisconsin leads the nation in unhealthy and harmful drinking patterns. We're not just talking about health. We're talking about negative impacts on every aspect of life in our state with a $6.8 billion price tag that our taxpayers and businesses simply cannot afford."

“I believe we all can agree that we want Wisconsin to be a place where everyone can feel safe and pursue their health and aspirations,” said Chris Fitzgerald, Barron County Sheriff. “Unfortunately, we devote far too many resources toward addressing alcohol-fueled violence and crime. Promoting public safety isn’t just about writing traffic tickets or chasing down criminals – it’s about making sure we prevent crime before it starts. Addressing our dangerous and costly alcohol culture is critical to the safety and health of all Wisconsin communities.”

The report also highlighted the fact that Wisconsin’s alcohol tax collections pale in comparison to the enormous costs to businesses and taxpayers. In 2011, Wisconsin collected $69 million in alcohol taxes – merely 1 percent of the $6.8 billion in economic costs attributed to excessive alcohol use.

Busalacchi added that addressing these costs will require a comprehensive approach to change Wisconsin’s alcohol culture. “We have a daunting problem and as we hope we demonstrated today, the costs of excessive alcohol use are taking a toll on our communities. Fortunately, we know what kind of policies would make a difference at the state and local level.”

The 2010 Alcohol, Culture and Environment Workgroup Recommendations, also known as the ACE Report, detailed state and local policy changes that would improve Wisconsin’s alcohol culture. The report was released by the State Council on Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse and is available at: http://scaoda.state.wi.us/docs/ace/ACE2011reprint.pdf. The policies detailed in the report would help move Wisconsin toward a more moderate and safe alcohol culture.

Strong athletic codes to prevent underage drinking, alcohol density policies, and social host ordinances are several local-level policies that have proven to be effective in reducing alcohol abuse. On the state level, making 21 the consistent drinking age at all bars and restaurants, allowing law enforcement agencies to use sobriety checkpoints as they do in 38 other states, and generating more resources for prevention and treatment by increasing our paltry alcohol tax, are policies that would prevent excessive alcohol consumption and move Wisconsin toward a safer alcohol culture.

The Burden of Excessive Alcohol Use in Wisconsin was created by academic researchers from the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute. The researchers used rigorous scientific methods to calculate the financial burden of excessive alcohol use and how those costs are paid for in Wisconsin. To view the summary sheets, county data, and the full report, visit: healthfirstwi.org/alcohol/resources.php.

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