Regional alcohol-impaired driving deaths on the rise

Tony Casey • Updated Apr 26, 2017 at 11:21 PM

The percentage of driving deaths involving alcohol impairment in Carter, Johnson, Sullivan, Unicoi and Washington counties increased from 2014 to 2015.

Defined by the percentage of motor vehicle crash deaths with alcohol involvement, Carter, Unicoi and Washington counties all bumped up well over the state average of 28 percent. Tennessee’s rate held steady, but these Northeast counties jumped.

Johnson County — which sat at 6 percent for 2014 — catapulted to 16 percent.

April is National Alcohol Awareness Month, with resources across the country dedicated to fight back against those numbers — efforts coming at the same time the region is dealing with a growing opioid addiction epidemic.

Area addiction experts are left to deal with is how to treat those who are addicted and working with the loved ones who are equally affected.

Jilian Reece, director of the Carter County Drug Coalition, works to educate young people, law enforcement and employees at retail locations that sell alcohol about ways to lower alcohol’s negative consequences.

“We’re constantly looking at ways to combat that,” Reece said.

Another statistic collected by the state is the number of adults who report drinking excessively — defined by the percentage of adults who report binge drinking or heavy drinking.

Experts define binge drinking for women drinking as four drinks on the same occasion (within a couple of hours) on one day in a 30-day span; for men, it’s drinking five drinks during that same length of time. Heavy drinking is determined by women drinking one drink a day and men drinking two drinks in that duration.

The good news is that most area counties saw flat measures or decreases in this measure: Tennessee’s average is 11 percent, down from 12 the year before.

Both Washington and Johnson counties ticked up one percentage point to 13 percent and 12 percent in this regard. Both Carter and Unicoi counties held steady at 11 percent from the previous year. Sullivan County saw a decrease to 11 percent over the course of the past year.

Jason Abernathy is the LifeLine coordinator for Insight Alliance, working with those who suffer from addictions like alcohol, often dealing with the life-destroying consequences that come out of excessive alcohol use.

The goal of his organization and his work is to unite, educate and support people and organizations in breaking down barriers to a person wanting recovery through speaking engagements and recovery meetings.

These relate to the stigma surrounding alcoholism and the difficulty in finding the way to treatment.

To do that, he first establishes what alcoholism is.

“Alcoholism and addiction is a disease in the brain, not a moral failure,” Abernathy said.

He’s often contacted by individuals and their families, seeking help for this destructive behavior before they become a statistic compiled by the state health department.

A lack of beds in long-term facilities is hindering these efforts to fight addiction in the state, Abernathy said. If anyone wanted to help with the work Abernathy does, he recommends going to their website at www.wcadc.com/lifeline.

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