- Associated Press - Thursday, May 29, 2014

OLYMPIA, Wash. (AP) - Researchers studying the impact of broader hard-liquor sales in Washington state say they have found people are making more alcohol-related trips to emergency rooms.

The researchers, who are Oregon and Washington health officials, gave a preliminary report Wednesday to the state Liquor Control Board on the effects of Initiative 1183, The News Tribune reported (http://is.gd/V5w54c). The initiative has given shoppers access to hard liquor at four times as many stores during twice as many hours.

It was passed in 2011 to get the state out of the liquor business.

The researchers found, for example, that during the first 13 months of private-sector spirit sales, people younger than 21 on Medicaid made a third more visits to emergency rooms for alcohol-related reasons.

In King County, they found about 50 percent more hospital visits were related to alcohol between June 2012 and September 2013.

The researchers estimate liquor sales have grown since the new law took effect, but only by 3 or 4 percent more than sales would have grown otherwise.

The study doesn’t yet differentiate between visits directly caused by liquor consumption, such as those for alcohol poisoning, and visits prompted by injuries sustained while the patients were drunk. More details are expected to emerge as the study continues.

Other effects - such as drunken driving - might come into clearer focus as the study funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation advances. Principal investigators are an Oregon health official, Julia Dilley, and Linda Becker of the Washington Department of Social and Health Services.

They couldn’t say for sure where minors were getting the alcohol that was sending them to the emergency room in increasing numbers.

Compliance checks found only slightly more sales to minors in the private stores than previous reports on now-defunct state liquor stores. They are looking into reports of more alcohol thefts.

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Information from: The News Tribune, http://www.thenewstribune.com