Study finds alcohol-related deaths surged during pandemic. Omnibus Alcohol Bills in N.C. contribute | Eastern North Carolina Now

By Peyton Majors
Christian Action League
March 8, 2024

The COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting lockdowns resulted in more than simply episodes of loneliness, stress and isolation for millions of Americans. It also led to a major increase in alcohol-related deaths in the U.S., according to a new CDC study.

The study, released in late February, found that the average annual number of deaths from excessive alcohol use increased 29 percent from 2016–2017 (137,927) to 2020-21 (178,307), hitting women the hardest, with a spike of 35 percent (from 43,565 per year to 58,701). Among men, deaths due to excessive alcohol use increased 27 percent (from 94,362 per year to 119,606).

The data is based on 58 alcohol-related causes of death, including liver disease, certain cancers and accidents, such as crashes.

There was only a 5 percent increase from 2016–2017 to 2018–2019, just prior to the pandemic.

Referencing the spike in 2020-21, the CDC report surmised: “Increases in the availability of alcohol in many states might have contributed to this disproportionate increase.” For example, “during the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020–2021, policies were widely implemented to expand alcohol carryout and delivery to homes, and places that sold alcohol for off-premise consumption (e.g., liquor stores) were deemed as essential businesses in many states (and remained open during lockdowns).”

The pandemic also saw a delay in medical treatment, the study noted.

“General delays in seeking medical attention, including avoidance of emergency departments for alcohol-related conditions; stress, loneliness, and social isolation; and mental health conditions might also have contributed to the increase in deaths from excessive alcohol use during the COVID-19 pandemic,” the study said.

Researchers in the study suggested society and governments could, perhaps, tackle the problem by “reducing the number and concentration of places selling alcohol and increasing alcohol taxes.”

Rev. Mark Creech, executive director of the Christian Action League, labeled the findings in the study “deeply troubling, but not surprising.”

“We’ve been facing a growing public health crisis exacerbated by excessive alcohol consumption for quite some time,” he said. “The increase in fatalities, particularly among women, underscores the urgency for effective measures to address this trend. Among adults under 65, more people died from alcohol-related causes in 2020 than from COVID-19. However, getting lawmakers to take this matter seriously and placing public health and safety above the interests of ‘Big AL’ is a formidable challenge.

“The correlation between expanded alcohol availability and the spike in alcohol-related deaths during the pandemic cannot be overlooked,” he said. “Policies that facilitated easier access to alcohol likely contributed to the rise in these fatalities.”

It is time for lawmakers to wake up to the problems caused by excessive alcohol use, Creech said.

“We must prioritize strategies to discourage excessive alcohol use and mitigate its harmful effects,” he said. “Measures such as decreasing alcohol accessibility, and raising alcohol prices and taxes, are proven methods for reversing alcohol-related deaths. Moreover, the media in North Carolina has recently reported numerous tragic incidents of underage drunk driving. The prevalence of such incidents demands a critical examination of our state’s approach to alcohol policy, including the impact of omnibus legislation.”

The upcoming “ABC Omnibus” bill, he said, is not sufficient to deal with the issue. (ABC stands for “Alcohol Beverage Control.”)

“Omnibus alcohol bills, while aiming to streamline legislative processes, often obscure the full implications of individual policy changes, making informed and deliberative decisions by lawmakers in the General Assembly not only challenging but downright impossible. As an omnibus bill from 2023 remains eligible for the Spring Session (SB 527 — ABC Omnibus), we need to pause and reflect on the potential consequences of such sweeping legislative reforms,” Creech said. “Rushing through such measures without due diligence, especially during the Short Session, is not only imprudent but also a disservice to the well-being of our state’s communities. The legislation is entirely too big and too broad-sweeping to be conscientiously and sufficiently vetted concerning its potential harms, and much less during the limited time frame of the biennium’s ending.

“In memory of those who have lost their lives to alcohol-related tragedies,” he concluded, “let us demand accountability, transparency and compassion in our approach to alcohol policy. The future of our citizens depends on it, and we cannot afford to ignore the warning signs any longer.”

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