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Group shows cost behind Wisconsin's drinking culture


WAUSAU, WI (WSAU) -  Health organizations, law enforcement, and community leaders are seeking changes to Wisconsin’s alcohol culture and laws. Health First Wisconsin released a study done by the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute showing the real cost of excess alcohol consumption is 6.8 billion dollars annually in Wisconsin alone. This includes alcohol related health care, premature deaths, lost work time, traffic crashes, and court cases.

Dr. Richard Brown from the UW School of Medicine and Public Health says until the “Burden of Excessive Alcohol Use” report came out, they could only guess on the scale and cost of alcohol related issues. This report shows the cost is largely covered by taxpayers, and is more than the University of Wisconsin budget and more than what the Department of Public Instruction spends to educate children.

Dr. Brown says drunk driving is not always the same repeat offenders.  "Two thirds of alcohol related traffic fatalities in our state are due to people who have never been caught before, so yes we need to focus on those repeat offenders, but we also need a much broader based population wide strategy if we're truly going to get the best handle on drunk driving.”

Wausau Police Captain Benjamin Bliven supports Health First’s call for measures including checkpoints on the highways.  "Sobriety checkpoints is an evidence based strategy to reduce impared driving, and it increases a person's perception that they will be caught for drunk driving.”

Health First Wisconsin also supports tougher penalties for first time drunk drivers, higher taxes on alcohol products to help pay for the drinking-related health care costs, and the sobriety checkpoints. Some of these issues may have an uphill battle in the state Legislature.

Simultaneous presentations were given Tuesday in Wausau, La Crosse, Green Bay, Milwaukee, and Madison.