LANE COUNTY, Ore. (KMTR) -- New numbers are showing Lane County has one of the highest rates of alcohol-related deaths in the country and now one group is working with local grocery stores to hopefully help change the trend by focusing on reducing binge drinking.
For every 100,000 people in Lane County, around seventeen have died in the last year from alcohol use. That's about three more people than Oregon's average and twice the national average.
Local health officials say binge drinking is one of the leading contributors to the high number and now they're working with local grocery stores to step up and take responsibility for their role in the problem.
The Eugene Prevention Coalition recently lobbied about twenty local grocery stores, asking them to change their in-store alcohol advertising displays. Safeway on 18th Avenue and Oak Street in Eugene is one example of a store that changed its ways.
The store used to sell beer right alongside ping-pong balls, plastic cups and University of Oregon logos. Ping-pong balls and plastic cups are typically used for a drinking game called beer pong where people toss a ball into the opponent's cup. If the ball makes it in the defender's cup, the defender must drink what is in the cup.
After talking with the coalition, Safeway took down those displays. The coalition hopes that it helps promotes more responsible drinking.
"The way we promote alcohol, the way we demonstrate using alcohol to . . . young people in our community greatly influences their likelihood to engage in high-risk behaviors,” says Lindsey Adkisson, Community Health Analyst for Lane County Public Healthy. Adkisson also works for the Eugene Prevention Coalition.
A big part of the Coalition's work has also been interfacing with the University of Oregon. More than 20,000 student attend the institution and health representatives there say it's important to realize that those students directly have an impact on the Eugene-Springfield area in health and safety.
Health officials point to many of the side effects of binge drinking including property damage, fights, sexual assaults, unintended pregnancies, sexually-transmitted diseases and more.
"I don't think, except when there are specific incidents that occur, we really think about that - how important it is to change the whole community's values and approaches with regards to alcohol,” says Dr. Paul Shang, the Dean of Students for the University of Oregon.
The UO says this effort is part of a multiple pronged effort to make a healthier campus.
"We are starting to see some differences with behaviors and some of the efforts, when you look at the statistics, then you can hone in and say 'Okay, these are the very specific strategies we should be using',” says Jennifer Summers, Substance Abuse Prevention and Student Success Director for the University of Oregon Dean of Students Office.
All of the stores taking part in the alcohol advertising changes have taken part voluntarily.
On the University of Oregon campus, the school has also worked to ban all tobacco product use on campus this year. Incoming freshmen are also required to take an alcohol awareness class.