- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 2, 2008

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

We face a crisis of drug and alcohol abuse and addiction in America. And no day in the American calendar underscores the trouble more than “Super Bowl Sunday.”

Due to drunk driving, Super Bowl Sunday is the single deadliest day on America’s roads, followed by New Year’s Eve and St. Patrick’s Day, according to the National Transportation Safety Board.

On “Super Sunday,” police around the nation make more DUI arrests than on any other day. On “Super Sunday” (and the Monday after,) hospital emergency rooms are crowded with overdoses, alcoholics in relapse and occasional drinkers and drug users who have just gone way over the line.

A friend of mine who is a physician and recovering alcoholic took me for a post-party tour of a big city emergency room on Jan. 1. “Look at the carnage following the biggest annual drinking binge Americans wink at every year. It will look like this the Monday after the Super Bowl, too,” he told me. “It will be even worse on and after ‘Super Sunday,’ statistically, but to the doctors and nurses every day is made more stressful by alcohol and drugs.”

In fact, experts say “Super Bowl Sunday” is the biggest day for drinking in America because it is an all-day party. And the Center for Science in the Public Interest claims that beer and alcohol advertising for the Super Bowl targets underage drinkers.

My friend invited me into his work environment after reading my Dec. 27 commentary in The Washington Times. That article discussed the time of year when many recovering alcoholics and drug abusers relapse and end up in the hospital: the “holiday” season between Thanksgiving and Jan. 1.

On Jan. 1, in almost every emergency room in America, several patients can be found suffering from delirium tremens (DTs), milder tremors, seizures and other alcohol- and drug-related overdose symptoms. “For all sorts of reasons, many of the addicted who are in recovery and making progress crash and burn during the holidays. I think the pressure and chaos of buying too many presents and acting like a Boy Scout drives some in recovery back into really bad and sometimes fatal habits,” my friend said.

My friend is a recovering alcoholic who attends daily Alcoholics Anonymous (A.A.) meetings. We agreed to protect his anonymity in keeping with A.A. traditions and guarantees.

As an emergency room physician, he has gained invaluable insight into the disease of the mind called addiction. He is also an expert in how many of his colleagues treat alcoholics and the drug addicted.

“Several things seem to crash together during the holidays and ‘Super Sunday’ to push people toward the ‘perfect storm’ of drug and alcohol abuse which reaches a crisis level: peer pressure, advertising, a feeling the overuse is ‘O.K.,’ ” he said. “So combine the addicted who crash and burn with the casual users who go nuts on days like ‘Super Sunday’ and you have docs and cops stressed to their limits.”

Even on normal days, alcohol and drug treatment centers are almost overwhelmed by the numbers seeking help. And hospitals are straining at their limits to provide treatment and detoxification to the severely impaired.

While we observed a hospital physician treating a severely impaired with alcohol patient the doctor told us, only after asking for anonymity: “Normally you’ll be lucky if this man can see a physician’s assistant or a nurse. There are not enough doctors available.”

Physician care is at such a premium, several doctors told us, that medicating patients often allows doctors to move on to the next individual faster.

But more doctors may not necessarily make things better. “Calling for more doctors, like prescribing more drugs [to treat patients], for an already overmedicated patient, may only make things worse,” said Dr. David Goodman, a professor of pediatrics and family medicine at Dartmouth Medical School, which researches heath care quality and costs.

He says as the American population grows and the baby boomers enter their retirement years, more doctors writing more prescriptions and seeing more patients only escalates the costs of an already exorbitantly expensive medical system. He favors more study and analysis before anyone decides how to solve the multi-faceted dilemma of our medical system’s future.

The National Football League may not want to hear it, but “Super Bowl Sunday” highlights the need for a more thorough review and study of medicine in America, addiction and the cultural path we are on that contributes to a crisis in unnecessary deaths, destruction and strain on our medical and legal systems.

This Sunday is a good time to think about more than just football.

John E. Carey is a frequent contributor to The Washington Times, a former senior U.S. military officer and president of International Defense Consultants, Inc.

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