NIAAA Collaborates with Alcohol Issue Forums
By Dianne Vignovich-Needham
In Indiana, the Purdue University women's basketball team returns this season with one player missing. Tiffany Young, 21, would have been a senior and returning guard on the reigning championship team. Instead her teammates now remember her by wearing a patch with the inscription "TY" on their shorts and shooting shirts, leaving a chair open for her on the bench, her locker untouched. Young died in a horrific auto accident in July, the victim of a drunk driver.
Young represents but one of many whose lives have been harshly affected by alcohol. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism wants to maximize public awareness and understanding of alcohol abuse and alcoholism through a new initiative. NIAAA, the Charles F. Kettering Foundation and an associated network of National Issues Forums (NIF) have collaborated to bring attention to the nation's alcohol-related problems an annual $167 billion economic burden to the United States.
Kettering, a nonprofit foundation, engages in research to understand the way civic democracy functions or fails to function. Initiated by Kettering in 1982, NIF consists of a voluntary, nonpartisan, nationwide network of citizens and their organizations. Thousands of issue forums are held annually by diverse groups such as high school and university students, law enforcement officials, community leaders, literacy volunteers and public librarians.
The object is deliberation helping citizens learn how to take responsibility for their community, come together as a public, talk through the issues that concern them, and act together to address a specific subject. Through a neutral moderator, participants learn to weigh the advantages, disadvantages, costs and tradeoffs of basic choices about the issue at hand.
Each year, the NIF program selects three topics and develops issue books. The books jump-start deliberation by offering a framed issue. Considering the overwhelming problems involved with its use and abuse, alcohol has been chosen as an issue for 2 years. "Alcohol: Controlling the Toxic Spill," is being presented during 1999-2000.
NIAAA director Dr. Enoch Gordis noted the significance of the latest NIF series including alcohol use and the public's attitude toward alcoholism. "A thoughtful national discussion of this issue will contribute greatly to a better understanding not only of the problem of alcohol use, abuse, and alcoholism, but its direct relevance to individual health, and by extension, the well-being of our communities."
Communities and organizations involved in NIF operate their own programs and decide what issue they deliberate. In the case of Purdue, alcohol was already at the top of the university's NIF agenda. The death of Tiffany Young only solidified its commitment to the issue. And Purdue is not alone. From South Dakota to Georgia, dozens of issue forums are focusing on alcohol. As one NIF moderator said, "Alcoholism is a major issue in our state, as it is around the country. It impacts the justice, corrections, and medical systems, human service providers as well as ordinary citizens."
Kettering President David Mathews presented a copy of the NIF issue book on alcohol to Secretary of Health and Human Services Donna Shalala, a former member of the Kettering board of trustees.
During the NIF 1999-2000 program, organizations and communities involved in alcohol issue forums will report their participants' overall impressions, attitudes and questions to the institute. This feedback further assists NIAAA's efforts in assessment of the public consensus regarding alcohol. NIAAA will also continue to share its biomedical and behavioral research with Kettering and the issue forums. "This is a strong avenue for our institute to provide science-based information to the public policy development process," said Gordis.
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