More college-age women than men treated for drunkenness
An ambulance waits outside the Mullins Center during a concert Thursday on the UMass Amherst campus, in case any students being treated in the nearby "triage center" needed transport. Purchase photo reprints »
Amherst Fire Captain David Miner stands outside the "triage center" at the Mullins center on the UMass Amherst campus Thursday during a concert. Purchase photo reprints »
UMass students line up outside the Mullins Center Thursday night for a Dada Life concert. Purchase photo reprints »
Hopkins' Andrew Omer (L) and Smith Vocational's Sam Sharpe (R) fight for the tip off Friday at Hopkins Academy. Purchase photo reprints »
AMHERST — Growing numbers of college-age women in Amherst are requiring medical attention for consuming too much alcohol, paramedics say.
So far this fall, on the three college campuses in town, there have been 43 women and 32 men brought to Cooley Dickinson Hospital in Northampton in intoxicated states, according to Amherst Fire Chief Walter “Tim” Nelson.
“Just in the time I’ve been here, I’ve seen an increase in the number of females we transport (to the hospital) as a result of alcohol,” said Nelson, who came to town in 2010. “It seems like a disproportionate number of young females we’re picking up.”
Nelson said he department began tracking these calls by gender in the fall of 2011, when evidence suggested that the ambulance personnel were seeing more young women. These included both those who needed hospital attention as well as others who could be treated for their impairments at the scene by ambulance crews or given a safe place to recover.
Last spring, between March 9, which was just before spring break, and April 30, the last major party weekend before graduation, 32 women were brought to the hospital for alcohol use. During that same period 18 men were taken by ambulance to the hospital, Nelson said.
The question of why more women are requiring treatment for overconsumption of alcohol than men is a frequent topic of conversation among Amherst Fire Department officials, UMass police and the Dean of Students office representatives who meet every Monday, he said. Some speculate that they are drinking more, but also that physiological differences between the genders are a factor. Also, Nelson said, there may be reluctance on the part of men to call for medical assistance unless they or their friends have serious injuries, such as those suffered in a fight.
Sally Linowski, the assistant dean of students at UMass and co-chairwoman of the Campus and Community Coalition to Reduce High-Risk Drinking, is in the process of analyzing 2012 statistics related to alcohol consumption on campus. In an email, she said that nationally the drinking done by college-age women is now on par with that of college-age men, and their rates of drinking have been going up for the past 15 years.
“Among UMass undergraduates, the rates of heavy episodic drinking are similar at 46 percent for males and 47 percent for females,” Linowski said. Episodic drinking refers to either five drinks in a row for men or four drinks in a row for women, over a two-hour period, anytime within the past two weeks, she said.
Linowski, formerly the associate director of University Health Services, said whether or not students are of drinking age does not affect heavy episodic drinking. Such drinking, occurring three times in a two-week period, happens among 15 percent of undergraduates, she said, which is a decline of 56 percent from 2005. Women and men are involved in heavy drinking at nearly identical rates, she said.
‘Sleeping it off’ nixed
Part of the rise in ambulance transports related to alcohol use is attributable to new procedures the Fire Department must follow, said Amherst Assistant Chief Donald McKay.
“Pre-hospital protocols have changed to erring on the side of caution,” he said. The days of allowing a heavily intoxicated person to return to friends after a medical call has been initiated are over. “Sleeping it off” is not an option, he said.
“We don’t know whether the person is going to crash,” he said.
Still, the Fire Department has instituted measures to reduce the number of transports needed.
For instance, fire officials set up a triage center at the UMass Mullins Center during certain events to provide assistance for medical emergencies. McKay said Cooley Dickinson Hospital in Northampton is also informed so officials there can prepare for an influx of intoxicated patients, people overdosing on drugs or people who are simply dehydrated or exhausted from dancing. The latest example of that was Thursday night, when one ambulance, with two paramedics and a fire captain, were at the Winter White Tour featuring Dada Life, a band that performs what is described as electro-house music.
Nelson said eight inebriated patients were treated during the evening, five women and three men, with two of the intoxicated women and one intoxicated man needing rides to the hospital.
The alcohol consumption, Nelson said, takes place in advance of the concert, as the venue doesn’t sell alcohol. Nelson was also at the site for a portion of the evening.
“Both Mullins and us want them to have a good experience, but some people feel they need to enhance that experience with drugs or alcohol,” Nelson said.
Linowski, who is waiting until the Dec. 19 meeting of the Campus and Community Coalition to Reduce High-Risk Drinking to release more information about UMass drinking, said administrators are concerned about the dangers of excessive drinking.
“We do know that drinking in this manner increases the likelihood of personal harm and secondary effects,” said Linowski, referring not only to ambulance transports, but also to students being taken into protective custody by police. This is why many students who violate the student code of conduct are referred to an extensive course in alcohol education, known as BASICS, she said.