New coalition to fight alcohol abuse - WKOW 27: Madison, WI Breaking News, Weather and Sports

New coalition to fight alcohol abuse


MADISON (WKOW) -- When it comes to heavy drinking, Wisconsin is regularly at the top of the national rankings.

With that in mind, UW Health announced a sweeping, state-wide coalition Tuesday, to combat alcohol abuse.

They're calling for law-changing reforms to address the state's drinking problem.

"We think the time has come to attack Wisconsin's alcohol abuse problems head-on," said Dr. Jeffrey Grossman, CEO of UW Medical Foundation.

UW Health officials cited the huge economic cost alcohol has on the state -- $5 billion annually. Doctors say that doesn't even account for the emotional toll.

"All too many times I have to inform families that their loved ones have been killed in a crash as a result of alcohol," said Dr. Lee Faucher, Director of Trauma at UW Hospitals and Clinics. "It's disheartening to me to realize that so many of them could be prevented."

According to the new alcohol coalition AWARE, prevention starts with changing the laws in the only state where first offense OWI is not a crime.

"First time drunk driving penalties in Wisconsin should be increased and underage drinkers should lose their drivers licenses," said Dr. Robert Golden, Dean of the UW School of Medicine.

Members also want to stop insurance companies from using a loophole to deny coverage to OWI offenders.

"This puts a burden on the hospital and on taxpayers who pay for the care of drunken drivers through higher premiums," said Donna Katen-Bahensky, CEO of UW Hospital and Clinics.

Another goal -- targeting young people through increased education.

"Alcohol is a drug. It affects our ability to act appropriately. It alters our mental status so that we can't do those things and respond in the way that we should," Dr. Faucher said.

"Our goal is to dramatically change the laws, culture, and behaviors in Wisconsin, so that we become one of the best, rather that embarrassingly worst, states in the nation in regards to alcohol abuse," said Dr. Golden.

The next step for the coalition is recruiting members. They've sent invitations to hospitals, health care systems, politicians and police. The alcohol coalition hopes to have concrete proposals ready when the next legislative session begins in January.

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