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Program Tackles Drinking Culture

McLean High School hosts first ‘Perils of College Drinking Culture’ presentation of year.

From left, Jeff Levy, commissioner of the Fairfax County Oversight Committee on Drinking and Driving, William Hauda, an emergency room physician at INOVA Fairfax, Samara Kimmelman, a George Mason University graduate student, Capt. Bruce Ferguson, commander of Fairfax County Police Department’s Youth Services Division, and Mary Ann Sprouse, director of Drug, Alcohol and Health Education at George Mason, were part of a presentation on underage drinking at McLean High School Thursday, Jan. 17

From left, Jeff Levy, commissioner of the Fairfax County Oversight Committee on Drinking and Driving, William Hauda, an emergency room physician at INOVA Fairfax, Samara Kimmelman, a George Mason University graduate student, Capt. Bruce Ferguson, commander of Fairfax County Police Department’s Youth Services Division, and Mary Ann Sprouse, director of Drug, Alcohol and Health Education at George Mason, were part of a presentation on underage drinking at McLean High School Thursday, Jan. 17 Photo by Alex McVeigh.

Leading up to graduation last year, and in the summer before his freshman year, Denny Shiram’s parents spent a lot of time warning him about the dangers of alcohol. Part of what they learned came from attending “The Perils of College Drinking Culture,” a program hosted by the Unified Prevention Coalition of Fairfax County.

The program features a panel discussion from medical, law enforcement and legal professionals, as well as other anti-underage drinking advocates. It also contains the showing of “HAZE,” a film that documents college drinking, including the death of 18-year-old Gordie Bailey as a college freshman.

“My parents told me about this movie last year, and I thought they sort of played up the things they saw in this movie to scare me before freshman year,” said Shiram, a freshman at Northern Virginia Community College. “But last semester, I saw a lot of things straight out of this movie. People that didn’t even seem interested in having fun, just putting as much alcohol in their body as fast as humanly possible. And that’s how you end up like Gordie.”

BAILEY DIED IN SEPT. 2004, the fall of his freshman year, after drinking as part of a fraternity initiation ritual at the University of Colorado. His family founded the Gordie Foundation, which creates awareness of alcohol abuse and hazing.

Jeff Levy, commissioner of the Fairfax County Oversight Committee on Drinking and Driving, who lost his son in a drunk driving accident, served on the panel during the program.

“The problem with alcohol is that the second drink tastes better than the first, and the third tastes better than the second,” he said. “My son was one of five college students that died in drinking-related accidents one weekend in 1997.”

Dr. William Hauda, another panel member and an emergency physician at INOVA Faifax Hospital said that the almost 2,000 deaths of college students per year in alcohol related incidents is only scratching the surface of what is happening.

“Those 1,800, 1,900 deaths are just the tip of the iceberg, when it comes to the number of sexual assaults, physical assaults and other damages,” he said. “Anecdotally, almost all sexual assaults have alcohol as a factor, whether in the victim, the perpetrator or both.”

While audience members said they found the panelists educational, what really hit home was the film, especially the young man who died of alcohol poisoning.

In addition to Bailey’s story, the film chronicles legal and medical personnel dealing with the consequences of alcohol abuse, as well as shows video clips from clearly intoxicated students doing things like drinking into unconsciousness and diving down stairs.

“What terrifies me is that the things we saw here are just a few small examples that happened to be caught on videotape and put into the film,” said Jennifer Sauers of McLean. “These are things I wouldn’t expect from anyone over the age of three, yet here are supposedly ‘educated’ young men doing these crazy things under the influence of alcohol. Every single one of them could have ended up like Gordie in the movie.”

While the movie is intended to show a big picture view of the damage caused by alcohol abuse, for many in attendance, it was Bailey’s story that will stick with them.

“I got chills when they showed the pictures of Gordie’s body on the floor while the audio of the 911 call was playing,” said Paul Miller of McLean. “My eyes started tearing up, and then when they show that last shot of his face all blue as he lay there, I lost it. It’s a tragedy that every year, there are 1,800 families that go through the same thing Gordie’s family did.”

THE PROGRAM’S SPEAKERS examined the consequences of alcohol abuse, especially for underage drinkers, from a variety of different angles.

McLean High School PTSA President Loretta D’Ermes says underage drinking is a real issue in the McLean High community, citing the annual Fairfax County Youth Survey, which among other things, collects anonymous student responses about their experience with drugs and alcohol.

“Our latest youth survey data for McLean High School, 26 percent of our seniors admitted to participating in binge drinking, which is defined as five or more drinks in a row, in the past 30 days. That’s significant, but there’s also good news in that 74 percent of our seniors aren’t drinking.”

The full data from the Fairfax County Youth Survey for McLean High School will be presented later this spring by the McLean High School PSTA.