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July 4, 2007

Drunk Driving Deaths Expected to Soar July 4:  The 2nd Most Deadly Day

National Expert Available to Discuss DUI Prevention, Policy Measures

WHAT:   July 4 is second only to New Year’s Eve in traffic fatalities – with most of the deaths due to   drunk driving.  Drunk drivers typically drive impaired hundreds of times before they are arrested, and 2/3 of those who cause alcohol-related accidents have never been arrested for DUI.  Many end up in emergency rooms long before they have to deal with law enforcement.  But arresting drunk drivers isn’t the only way to get them off the road:  research by trauma surgeon Dr. Larry Gentilello has shown that screening and counseling in the ER and trauma center can reduce their drinking by two-thirds and cut their future injuries and ER visits in half. 

But this screening rarely happens due to ancient laws in effect in 29 states, which are opposed by a broad range of groups, from the AMA to Mothers Against Drunk Driving.  These laws have been denounced by the very group that drafted them in 1947, and  have been repealed in many states, with additional repeal efforts under way.  Under these laws, insurers are allowed to deny payment if the use of alcohol -- even in minute amounts -- is indicated in a patient’s chart. Patients, hospitals and doctors can be left with hundreds of thousands of dollars in unpaid bills. To avoid bankrupting their patients, many physicians and hospital managers decide to avoid any activity that might result in an alcohol-related diagnosis.  Dr. Gentilello, whose research has documented the high contribution of drug and alcohol abuse to life-threatening injury, the potentially powerful impact of hospital-based trauma center/ER interventions, and the negative effect of these “alcohol exclusion laws,” will be available to discuss:

  • The impact of drunk driving. More than 13,000 people a year are killed by impaired drivers and 500,000 are injured.
  • How ordinary citizens can intervene and prevent drunk driving.
  • The laws that allow drunk drivers to repeat their destructive behavior because they discourage screening and counseling – and how individuals can speak out about this issue.
  • Anecdotes from hospitals across the nation on the high cost of insurance denials – and how taxpayers must pick up the tab for this unreimbursed “charity care.”
  • The high incidence of alcohol-related injuries and problem drinking among patients seen in ERs and trauma centers.  
    • Eight million visits a year to the nation’s ERs are thought to be alcohol related.  This means that there are about seven million more opportunities to intervene in the nation’s hospitals than on the nation’s highways. 
    • Alcoholism is the most common chronic disease seen in trauma centers.
  • The effectiveness of screening and counseling for alcohol and drugs in the ER and trauma center.

WHO:    Larry M. Gentilello, M.D., F.A.C.S.

  • Chairman of the Division of Burns, Trauma and Critical Care at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, one of the nation’s busiest trauma centers
  • Member of the American College of Surgeons Trauma Prevention Committee
  • Recipient of The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Innovators Combating Substance Abuse Award (www.InnovatorsAwards.org)
  • Author of numerous publications on topics that include alcohol screening in the emergency department and trauma center and reducing risky adolescent behavior
  • Featured prominently in the landmark HBO documentary, Addiction

SPONSOR:  The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Innovators Combating Substance Abuse Awards Program at The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine

**To schedule an interview, please contact Kelly Peterson, Dennis Tartaglia, Martha Cid or Jill Budik at 212-481-7000.

Copyright 2004 The Johns Hopkins University. Baltimore, Maryland.
All rights reserved. Last Updated January 15, 2010

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