John McCarthy is so wrong on so many points that it is hard to know where to begin. [Some drinking doesn’t mean kids won’t turn out fine, Viewpoints, April 14]

Let’s start with a few facts:

During 2001 to 2005, an estimated 79,646 deaths annually and 2.3 million years of potential life lost were attributed to the harmful effects of excessive alcohol use.

Motor vehicle accidents are the number-one cause of death in teenagers, and almost one-third of those involved had been drinking. The alcohol associated accident rate is highest at night, when most teenagers do their drinking.

Teenagers are less likely to use seatbelts when intoxicated.

Of all fatal automobile accidents, almost 40 percent involve alcohol.

Each month almost 30 percent of teenagers ride in a car with someone who has been drinking, often their friends, but it may also be their parents.

Two-thirds of domestic-abuse incidents involve alcohol.

Forty percent of rape and sexual assault offenders report drinking at the time of the assault.

Twenty-eight percent of suicides of children ages 9 to 15 involve alcohol.

About 480,000 children are mistreated every year by a caretaker with alcohol issues.

Young people die every year from acute alcohol poisoning.

The public health costs of dealing with acute and chronic alcohol-related injury and illness are astronomical.

Are these costs in lives and resources worth “overwrought panel discussions” or “draconian measures?” Is it draconian to expect that parents will be responsible and not allow underage drinking, and that they will set an example by not abusing alcohol themselves? Is it draconian to have a no-tolerance policy at school? Is it overwrought to have representatives from SADD or MADD speak to students? Maybe even to have them hear from someone who has experienced a loss due to an alcohol related event? You may think so, but I don’t.

I have not even scratched the surface of the toll that alcohol takes on our society if we look at the entire population. Every young suicide, rape, assault or violent death in an alcohol related event is a promising life damaged or lost forever. What about this is “no big deal?”

Mr. McCarthy, as someone who spent a lot of years working at Children’s Memorial Hospital and who has worked in emergency rooms elsewhere, I am telling you that alcohol is a big deal. You are very lucky that your family has been spared alcohol related tragedy. I hope you never have to experience the pain and loss I have seen, but don’t ever doubt that the toll taken by alcohol and its misuse is enormous, and that we have an obligation to inform young people about the risks of alcohol and its proper use. We have an obligation to see the impact of alcohol as serious enough to warrant panel discussions, school no-tolerance policies and rigid DUI penalties. Better one-too-many panel than one life lost or one quadriplegic teenager.

• Dr. Carol Roberts Gerson is a River Forest resident and a fellow of both the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American College of Surgeons.

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