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Originally published Thursday, March 21, 2013 at 9:02 PM

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WSU task force close to issuing alcohol plan

A Washington State University task force is close to presenting a plan to cut alcohol abuse among students.

The Associated Press

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PULLMAN — A task force formed by Washington State University President Elson S. Floyd is close to developing a plan to reduce alcohol abuse among students.

The task force expects to submit recommendations to Floyd in mid-April.

Floyd assembled the group after the alcohol-poisoning death of freshman Kenny Hummel. The 18-year-old, who had grown up in Lynnwood, was found unconscious in a residence hall on Oct. 27 and later died.

The task force has reviewed a decade’s worth of data on alcohol-related incidents among WSU students. The school said its recommendations will include a mandatory education program for freshmen, a new model for screening and intervention, and collaboration with the Pullman hospital’s emergency department.

“Trying to change behavior by using stern lectures and scare tactics won’t work. It requires a multipronged approach that reaches into the community,” Bruce Wright, a psychiatrist who chairs the task force, said in a news release Thursday.

“It’s not that more students are drinking or that they’re drinking more often,” he added. “The data is telling us that, for the most part, some higher-risk students are consuming greater amounts of alcohol in short periods of time.”

After reviewing WSU’s data and surveying students, several reasons have been identified for the rise of binge drinking, he said. They include wide availability of cheap alcohol near campus, drinking games, energy drinks and Internet culture.

“Research tells us that a significant link exists between binge drinking; close, easy access to alcohol; and special promotions such as drink bargains,” Wright said.

Students can buy alcohol where they buy gas or buy milk. And when bars advertise happy hours and drink specials, it “fuels heavy drinking behavior,” he said.

Wright said there looks to be an increasing link between caffeinated energy drinks and alcohol abuse. Members of Hummel’s family have said they believe he died of such a mix.

Meanwhile, drinking apps for mobile devices and drinking games, including online versions, encourage fast, intense liquor consumption.

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