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Lehigh to join with leading schools to address high-risk drinking

John Smeaton, vice provost for Student Affairs, is leading Lehigh’s team with the Learning Collaborative on High-Risk Drinking.

Lehigh University will join with colleges and universities from across the country to address high-risk drinking on American campuses. This unprecedented group initiative—the Learning Collaborative on High-Risk Drinking—will use comprehensive evaluation and measurement techniques to identify and implement the most effective ways to confront this persistent problem and lessen the harm it causes.

Dartmouth College President Jim Yong Kim, a leader in this effort, says that the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) statistics indicate that more than 40 percent of college students in the United States engage in binge drinking, and that number has remained virtually unchanged for decades.

Binge drinking is generally defined as having five or more drinks for men, and four or more drinks for women, in approximately a two-hour time frame.

"By collaborating on this issue, comparing our experiences, and learning from each other's best practices, we believe we are much more likely to make meaningful and lasting progress than if each school attempts to tackle this critical issue on its own,” he says.

In addition to Lehigh and Dartmouth, more than 30 institutions have joined the Collaborative to date. They include Boston University, Cornell University, Duke University, Northwestern University, Princeton University, Brown University, Purdue University, Stanford University and Wesleyan University.

Lehigh President Alice P. Gast, who was also recently named to the NIAAA College Presidents Working Group, says that “Lehigh is proud to join this initiative at its earliest stages, and to contribute our knowledge, experiences and resources to this worthy project.”

At the time that the initiative was launched, U.S Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said that binge drinking is a “serious public health challenge,” and that the Learning Collaborative is “a promising initiative that will implement evidence-based practices at college campuses around the nation. We look forward to partnering with college leadership on this effort."

A proven model of approach

The Learning Collaborative methodology was developed by the Institute for Healthcare Improvement (IHI) in Cambridge, Mass., and is aimed at spreading and adapting knowledge to different settings in order to address a given problem or health concern. This model has already been used successfully hundreds of times in medicine and public health. Using this system, participants are able to implement changes quickly and determine which methods are most effective in their institutions. These experiences then inform the process and progress of the group as a whole.

A centerpiece of the methodology is its focus on measurement. Various measures will be developed to track the progress of the effort, in consultation with experts from across the country. Data will be shared and compared among participant institutions with the goal of both lowering the rate of binge drinking and reducing the incidence of the harm associated with this behavior.

Dedicated teams from each school in the Collaborative—composed of students and administrators—will convene for the first of a series of face-to-face meetings and work sessions through July 2012. At that time, the group expects to publish its findings on effective, evidence-based interventions.

Lehigh’s team will be led by John Smeaton, vice provost for Student Affairs, and will include Eric Klein, staff psychologist and addictions expert in the Counseling Center; Maddy Eadline, director of special projects and assistant to the vice provost for Student Affairs; Patti Manz, associate professor of Education and Human Services; Meg Munley, research analyst for Institutional Research, Tom Novak, associate director of the Health Center; and Linda Harbrecht, director of communications. Accounting major Alexander Lass ’13 will also serve on the team to provide a student perspective.

Smeaton says that the Learning Collaborative presents an extraordinary opportunity to identify effective strategies for dealing with a host of alcohol-related concerns that face colleges and universities across the country.

“High-risk drinking continues to be the most significant threat to the health and safety of college students at Lehigh and across the country,” he says. “We have assembled a great on-campus team and look forward to our participation in this effort.”

The Learning Collaborative on High-Risk Drinking is the inaugural effort of the National College Health Improvement Project (NCHIP), a joint undertaking between Dartmouth College and The Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy and Clinical Practice (TDI). NCHIP aims to bring population health improvement methods to bear on problems affecting student health and plans to organize future collaboratives on other health issues.

Story by Linda Harbrecht

Posted on Wednesday, June 29, 2011

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