A report released Tuesday put a price to Wisconsin’s excessive drinking problem, showing a overall bill of $6.8 billion in 2012, 40 percent of which taxpayers paid.
The report from Health First Wisconsin, which was the first of its kind, showed “staggering” results about the fiscal reprecussions of excessive consumption, Maureen Busalacchi, the group’s executive director said.
“We’ve always known that Wisconsin has a serious problem with alcohol, but until today, most of us could only guess about the scale of the problem and the cost we all pay,” Busalacchi said in a statement. “Overconsumption of alcohol is a serious problem in Wisconsin that demands serious action.”
Of the $6.8 billion Wisconsin paid in 2012, $2.9 billion is from people being unable to work because of alcohol and $2 billion is the cost of premature deaths, according to the report. $749 million is a result of increased health care costs, $649 in criminal justice costs and $418 million from motor vehicle crashes, the report said.
Wisconsin’s annual alcohol consumption is 28 percent above the national average and is one of the state’s biggest health care concerns, the report found. In 2011, the report said, binge drinking led to 1,529 deaths, 48,578 hospitalizations, 60,221 arrests and, in 2010, it led to 5,751 motor vehicle crashes.
The report also pointed to the state’s roughly $70 million in alcohol tax collections do not come close to the $6.8 billion.
Julia Sherman, alcohol policy project coordinator at the University of Wisconsin Madison Law School’s Resource Center on Impaired Driving, also called the numbers “breathtaking” and said people were genuinely surprised by how high the cost is.
“Today is the beginning of a discussion,” Sherman said. “We don’t know yet where that will take us, but it is definitely overdue.”
During the day, Verveer said, police deal with a small group of alcoholics and at night, especially on the weekends, police patrol and are called for multiple incidents from intoxicated people.
Verveer said although he “sympathizes” with Health First Wisconsin’s arguments and may agree with some of them, he is also appreciative of Madison’s entertainment scene.
“Part of this cost is the price we pay for being home to a vibrant Big Ten college campus and home to the region’s entertainment district, so I don’t make apologies for a lot of these costs,” Verveer said. “I think it goes with the territory because we’re fortunate to host the state’s flagship campus and the region’s entertainment district.”
The Health First Report pointed to a 2010 Alcohol, Culture and Environment Workgroup report outlining ways to reduce the risk and costs of binge drinking.
Their suggestions include no underage drinking, even if accompanied by parents; limiting alcohol advertisements; reducing prices for nonalcoholic beverages; and not selling alcohol and gasoline at the same place.
Another suggestion calls on educational institutions to promote community youth-led efforts for reducing alcohol abuse.