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Saturday, January 25, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Opinion >  Guest Opinion

Dr. Bax: Focus on campus drinking when students fall

By Dr. Timothy Bax For The Spokesman-Review

September brings college students to the Washington State University campus. Sadly, it also predictably brings several WSU students to Sacred Heart Medical Center who have suffered severe injuries from a fall.

The Spokesman-Review recently published such an article (“WSU student’s father demands safer windows,” Sept. 7). This all too familiar story involved a freshman student who fell out of a dorm room window and suffered several injuries, including skull fractures.

As a trauma surgeon at Sacred Heart Medical Center, I have cared for several similar patients over the years who were significantly intoxicated. The article stated, “the 18-year-old had been drinking, like many of his peers”, and, “dozens of WSU students have been injured in falls … most involve alcohol.”

I will give credit to reporter Chad Sokol for mentioning in the article that the student was drinking and that alcohol likely contributed to the fall, but the main focus of the article was on the windows rather than the intoxication.

Excessive underage drinking is a serious problem on many university campuses. Too often these tragedies focus is on the height of the railing, the depth of the windowsill, the size of the window or some other distraction from the real issue, which is excessive alcohol use.

In my experience as a trauma surgeon, when a sober person falls from a height they either break their legs or their wrists when they put their hands out to protect themselves. When an intoxicated person falls they tend to land head-first, often resulting in a devastating brain injury, which can lead to a persistent vegetative state or death.

WSU has made it on several “Top Party School” lists over the years, which is not a distinction it should be proud of. While Sacred Heart has very rarely treated students from other colleges and universities in the region with alcohol-related falls, we see two to four students at the beginning of every school year from WSU.

As stated in the article, WSU officials are planning “to hire a consultant to evaluate fall risks across the campus” and to “distribute fliers with safety information to all dorm residents in the coming days.” I believe those actions are focusing on the distraction and not on the real problem.

I challenge the WSU administration to put a more serious effort into changing the culture of excessive drinking on campus to prevent these tragedies from occurring with such frequency.

I have two boys in college this year and can’t begin to imagine the devastation the most recent student’s family must be experiencing. I only wish that the energy they are putting into fixing the windows on campus was redirected at education about excessive alcohol consumption and its significant dangers.

Dr. Timothy Bax is the trauma medical director at Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center.

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