Deaths attributable to drinking also rose in the course of the pandemic, spiking 25 percent in 2020 over the previous 12 months. However the deaths — which have topped 140,000 nationwide — have been rising for a long time in every state. Few places have seen a greater uptick than Oregon, where the speed of alcohol-induced deaths grew 2.5 times from 1999 to 2020, after adjusting for the state’s changing age distribution.
Ms. Grove’s only son, Jonathon, had begun drinking excessively in college, she said, but managed to work as a pharmacy tech for years at Oregon Health Sciences University despite his worsening addiction. Low-cost beer and white wine were his weaknesses. “He all the time thought that he wasn’t drinking hard alcohol, so he wasn’t really an alcoholic,” Ms. Grove said. He died in an inexpensive hotel, surrounded by empty cans and containers.
Various studies lately have suggested that even moderate drinking poses a health risk, including to the guts. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that men eat not more than two drinks a day and ladies no a couple of.
Dr. Eric Roth, chief of emergency medicine at Kaiser Permanente’s two hospitals within the Portland area, estimated that 10 percent to 30 percent of his patients had illnesses or injuries no less than partly linked to drinking. “It’s all the time been an enormous problem,” he said, “and it’s attending to be an increasingly big problem.”
To deal with substance abuse, Oregon has emphasized education and treatment to handle substance use. A ballot measure passed in 2020 that decriminalized possession of small amounts of all drugs also diverted lots of of thousands and thousands of tax dollars from marijuana to recovery services, including for alcohol. This summer, Oregon sponsored a campaign to “Rethink the Drink.”
Dr. Tim Naimi, director of the Canadian Institute for Substance Use Research on the University of Victoria, labeled educational campaigns a “fig leaf” and said that treatment, while helpful, was akin to parking an ambulance beneath a cliff relatively than fencing the precipice to forestall people from falling. Measures to forestall excessive drinking are less expensive and simpler, he said. “If you need to talk prevention, you’ve got to speak policies.”