Last week, a report came out showing alcohol-related deaths increased more than 25% in the U.S., and in Alaska they increased 31%. Each year, alcohol misuse costs Alaska $2.4 billion, equivalent to $3,272 per person per year, whether they drink alcohol or not. Alaskans are dying at a rate more than twice the national average, with 9 of the 10 most common causes of death associated with alcohol and substance misuse.
However, this is not an individual issue; alcohol is tied to many of our societal problems. From 2004 to 2016, alcohol-related visits to the emergency room increased by 50%, significantly more when compared to any other type of visit during that time period. Furthermore, alcohol was the No. 1 cause for emergency room visits in 2020 for ages 18-64. Studies demonstrate nationwide, alcohol is a common factor in sexual assaults, and sexual assaults are more likely to occur in places where alcohol is being consumed. Alaska has the highest rate of sexual assault in the nation.
With these types of related harms, it is clear alcohol cannot be treated like the caffeine in coffee or the cholesterol in eggs. Alcohol is a different commodity that requires additional laws and policies to keep people as healthy and safe as possible. Science clearly shows that strengthening alcohol laws will help us achieve our shared goal of a healthier Alaska. Senate Bill 9, or SB 9, is full of evidence-based policies that will do just that.
The Title 4 Review project, modernizing Alaska’s confusing and antiquated alcohol laws, began in 2012. This comprehensive rewrite will replace a piecemeal approach of passing minor tweaks over the years, attempting to make state policy reflect the needs and practices of today. Senate Bill 9, the latest integration of Title 4 reform, will benefit consumers, businesses, law enforcement and the public at large. This bill is necessary to address the many issues surrounding alcohol, which is unlike any other product in our society.
The bill unanimously passed the Senate, because for the first time, the bill is supported by the alcohol and hospitality industries, the Brewers Guild of Alaska, retail stores, municipalities, and the public health and public safety communities. SB 9 is the result of thousands of hours of effort by more than 120 stakeholders. It is carefully crafted to bring everyone to the table.
SB 9 has critical public health measures, such as mandatory keg registration, regulation of internet sales and other tools for law enforcement to limit overserving or serving minors, which will reduce underage drinking. Most importantly, it has purposeful changes to population limits, which is one of the most effective strategies for reducing excessive alcohol consumption and its related harms, specifically violent crime. This will ensure there isn’t an oversaturation of bars and other alcohol outlets while accommodating flexibility and allowing for responsible business growth.
SB 9 is full of positive, research-based policy changes that will address current loopholes and disparities and result in a safer and healthier environment. It is a win for all Alaskans.
This commentary was jointly authored by the members of the Recover Alaska Operations Council: Andrew Aquino, University of Alaska Fairbanks; Michelle Baker, Southcentral Foundation; Katie Baldwin-Johnson, Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority; Farina Brown, State of Alaska Department of Health and Social Services; Deborah Vo, Rasmuson Foundation; Tiffany Hall, Recover Alaska ex-officio; Andre Rosay, University of Alaska Anchorage; Lance Johnson, Norton Sound Health Corp.; Philip Licht, Set Free Alaska; Renee Rafferty, Providence Health and Services Alaska; Elizabeth Ripley, Mat-Su Health Foundation; and Tina Woods, Central Council Tlingit & Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska. Recover Alaska is a multi-sector action group working to reduce excessive alcohol use and its harms across the state. Its vision is for Alaskans to live free from the harms of alcohol misuse, so we are all empowered to achieve our full potential.
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