Alaska could learn something from Washington state's experience with alcohol

Kyle Hopkins

When a man ran down and killed two grandparents this year in North Seattle, seriously injuring their infant granddaughter, Washington state lawmakers dusted off the state's drunken driving laws.

Were they tough enough? Was there room for improvement?

The debate mirrored a conversation now underway in Alaska, where police say drunken drivers killed five people over just two months earlier this year. Our Pacific Northwest neighbors might have a tip sheet for us.

On Monday a 33-person task force created by the Washington Legislature released a report that ranks 11 different ideas for combating DUIs.

The group listed random sobriety checkpoints among the more promising tools. Like Alaska, Washington is one of 12 states that don't use random checkpoints. The practice is considered effective by the Centers for Disease Control in reducing crashes but many drivers believe it violates their Constitutional rights.

Another controversial idea -- a version of which has already been tried in Alaska -- would temporarily ban repeat offenders from buying alcohol.

Here's the list, with No. 1 considered the most effective and No. 11 the least effective by the group.

1. Increasing penalties for refusing to take a breath or blood test to see if the driver has been drinking or doing drugs.

2. Increase mandatory minimum penalties and fines for repeat drunken driving offenders.

3. Lower the number of times a driver can be convicted of drunken driving before they are hit with a felony charge.

4. Create sobriety checkpoints.

5. Boost treatment and rehabilitation services for repeat offenders.

6. Increase the number of DUI courts and court-related services in the state.

7. Require mandatory arrests for first DUI offense. (Alaska already does this, with first-time offenders serving three days in jail.)

8. Encourage prosecutors to aggressively pursue DUI cases under existing drunken driving laws.

9. Create state and local impaired driving enforcement task forces.

10. Promote and monitor the use of mandatory ignition interlocks.

11. Ban alcohol sales to repeat drunken driving offenders.

The Washington Legislature approved a DUI bill in June that included some of the measures but omitted the decade-long ban on alcohol for repeat drunken drivers.

Other ideas include anti-alcohol drug

An "anticraving" drug designed to reduce an alcoholic's urge to drink. Ten-minute bursts of organized exercise to help kids re-focus on school work. A computer simulation that shows what it's like to argue with a struggling loved one home from war.

Those ideas are among 87 strategies that a team of researchers have flagged as potential solutions to Alaska's biggest public health concerns. The project, called Healthy Alaskans 2020, is a joint effort by the state health department and the Native Tribal Health Consortium.

After identifying the top 25 health concerns in Alaska this fall, the group has identified examples of "evidence-based strategies" that might be used to combat each problem.

The tools for fighting binge drinking and alcohol-fueled deaths are among the most specific. They include:

• A three- to six-month program that combines therapy with the anti-alcohol drug Naltrexone.

• Higher alcohol taxes.

• Banning alcohol sales on certain days, such as Sundays.

• Reducing the number of bars and liquor stores in a community.

Naltrexone and a related drug have been used for years in Alaska, sometimes in conjunction with therapeutic court, said Melinda Freemon, director of supportive housing for social service provider RuralCAP.

"They're considered best practice and they help with reducing relapse," she said.

Find links to the full report at

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