Alcohol awareness programs change with new information

By Simone Cheatham

Pitt Greensburg student Matt Tembo died as a result of alcohol poisoning last month on… Pitt Greensburg student Matt Tembo died as a result of alcohol poisoning last month on Carnegie Mellon University’s campus. Especially after someone, like Tembo, suffers an alcohol-related death, people consider how more deaths can be prevented.

The University sponsors several programs to teach students the risks of drinking alcohol that vary in approach.

Dr. Elizabeth Wettick, director of Pitt’s Student Health, said Pitt is currently undergoing a routine evaluation regarding its alcohol programs and cannot comment on how effective the programs are statistically. She said Pitt updates its programs to keep up with new information and the students.

“We reassess and modify our programming on an ongoing and regular basis to make sure that the information is up-to-date, medically accurate and pertinent to our population and its needs,” Wettick said in an e-mail.

Dan Gittins, coordinator of Duquesne University’s drug and alcohol awareness program, said Duquesne follows the same strategy and would not reevaluate its alcohol program just because of a tragedy associated with alcohol.

“We realize there are risks to students, and those are the risks we’re trying to help students avoid by employing this program,” Gittins said. “We’re trying to address those calculated risks to prevent students from ending up in compromising, unfortunate situations which could very well result in death. But we revamp our programs regularly and would not reassess specifically for student tragedy.”

Wettick said one of Pitt’s alcohol safety programs, the Personal Education Assistance and Referral program, meets one-and-a-half hours per week for four weeks and serves as a sanction for students on their first alcohol-related offense. P.E.A.R. challenges students “to examine the consequences of their alcohol use, understand how alcohol affects the body, explore the culture of use and misuse on campus, and evaluate their own decision making through critical thinking.”

The program coordinates a one-on-one meeting with the instructor during the final week, which allows the teacher to determine whether or not the student needs more help regarding alcohol usage. A second course, P.E.A.R. II, follows P.E.A.R. and consists of interviews with a substance abuse prevention specialist who helps repeat offenders determine their levels of use and how to prevent violations in the future.

Pitt also offers the Greek Alcohol Awareness program, which provides sororities and fraternities with information about alcohol-related issues after an alcohol-related incident involving the group. PantherWELL has two alcohol awareness programs, the Party Scene and Booze Basics, and participates in National Collegiate Alcohol Awareness week in October.

Wettick said Pitt’s Alcohol Task Force implemented the three-points campaign, a program that teaches students how to recognize and respond to the signs of an alcohol emergency.

Gittins said Duquesne’s DU Cares program follows a similar four-prong approach to make students aware of alcohol and its effects. The first level in the program deals with general education awareness for students, where instructors train everyone from fraternities and sororities to residential assistants about alcohol usage. Level two of the program addresses students who violated an alcohol policy and consists of educational classes for students during the week. Level three involves an intervention for a repeat offender, where a student is advised to make contact with local alcohol treatment providers, and level four is the promotion of alcohol-free activities that are held on campus for students.

“We look at our program as an educational program,” said Gittins. “We try to stress that its not meant to be punative, but that students can be educated without having to be punished for alcohol violations.”

Gittins also said the program does well with students, and most students do not have repeat violations after their first mandatory educational class.

“It’s very effective at reducing the number of problems, especially in regards to housing violations,” Gittins said.

Gittins said DU Cares has plans to set up a high school community outreach program to prepare students for the transition from high school to college.

“Those first few weeks in college can be very risky and tough, especially for kids who are not familiar with those things,” Gittins said. “This program will help our students learn about the risks out there and encourage them to make better decisions for themselves.”

In spring 2009, the National College Health Assessment found that 40 percent of Pitt students said they drank four or fewer alcoholic beverages the last time they drank, and that more than 70 percent ate before or during drinking, stayed with a group of friends while drinking and had a designated driver to help reduce the negative effects of alcohol.

But Wettick said students can prevent alcohol-related injury or death by getting help whenever they see signs of trouble.

“Know the signs of alcohol emergency, like passing out, heavy vomiting, shallow or slow breathing, unresponsiveness, cold, clammy or blue skin, loss of bodily control, or the inability to stand or walk,” Wettick said in an e-mail. “If you are with someone who is exhibiting these signs or any other signs that make you worry, seek help right away.”

Gittins agreed and said using self-control and common sense reduces negative alcohol-related consequenses immensely.

“We’re not naive. We know that underage students drink, but the best, simpliest advice there is for students is to keep control,” he said. “Don’t drink in excess, and surround yourself with people who will watch and take care of you. Those are the smartest things you can do.”