Friday, June 9, 2017

Reflections on the Penn State Tragedy

In the wake of the Penn State tragedy which led to the untimely death of 19 year old sophomore Timothy Piazza, Twenty-One Debunked was initially quiet about it lest we be accused of cynically exploiting this tragedy.  But as time goes on, I have decided that as an activist and a Penn State alum myself, I cannot remain silent about it any longer.

First, I must say that the fraternity brothers who were present at the event in which Piazza was fatally injured should not be in any way absolved of responsibility for what happened.  It was bad enough that they gave (or more accurately, force-fed) him ludicrous amounts of alcohol in a short amount of time, enough to reach a BAC of 0.40 (!), apparently as a hazing ritual.   But when he fell down the stairs and sustained a nasty head injury and was barely responsive, they could have very likely saved his life by calling 911 or otherwise getting medical attention for him, but chose not to.  Instead, they basically treated him like a rag doll and subsequently let him "sleep it off".   Regardless of the drinking age and the age of the people involved, what the brothers did, and failed to do, was nothing less than reckless, selfish, and cowardly, and they should certainly never be allowed to get away with it.  So don't even think about putting any sort of words in our mouths.

But then a very ageist article was wrtitten to try to explain this tragedy away as a result of brain development or lack thereof.  And that's when we at Twenty-One Debunked really saw nothing but red.  The article was not only blatantly ageist, but completely missed the point by a long shot.  If the drinking age was 18, for example, this tragedy would have been far less likely to have happened.  There would be less reason for frats to even exist begin with, since 18-20 year old students would readily have more reliable alternative sources for alcohol and parties, and most of all drinking would occur in safer environments in which people would be more far likely to call 911 or otherwise get help for injuries or overdoses without fear of legal reprisals.  Even medical amnesty policies, which are good, are still no substitute for full legalization or at least decriminalization of "underage" drinking in general.  While lowering the drinking age is not a magic bullet, it will nonetheless go a long way towards reducing the problem of extreme and dangerous drinking on college campuses and towns, particularly among Greek organizations and athletes.  Additionally, we need to hold rogue individuals and organizations accountable for their behavior regardless of how powerful or privileged they are.

How many more must die or otherwise have their lives ruined for such an ignoble experiment as the 21 drinking age?   Are we as a society really so pharisaical that we don't even follow our own advice when we selectively say "if it saves one life, it's worth it"?   Because the logical conclusion of that line of reasoning is that the pro-21 crowd has some serious blood on their hands.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Teen Drinking Drops in Germany Despite Low Drinking Age

The pro-21 crowd often likes to claim that the recent and secular trends towards less drinking among young people in the USA was largely a result of raising the drinking age to 21 and tightening up its enforcement. But the drinking age hike was at most a minor contributor to such trends, since similar trends can also be seen in several other countries that did NOT raise the drinking age to 21.

One such notable example of this is Germany, whose drinking age is 16 for beer and wine, and 18 for distilled spirits.  In fact, one can even drink at 14 in public when accompanied by a parent or guardian, and there is no age limit for drinking in private residences.   Such laws have essentially been in effect for as long as anyone can remember (with the notable exception of the Nazi era), so what were the results of maintaining them in recent decades?  From 1979 to 2016, the percentage of 12-17 year old Germans who drink at least weekly dropped from 25.4% to 10.0%, a relative drop of more than 60%.  For 18-25 year olds, the percentage dropped by nearly half during the same timeframe, and from 1973-2016 dropped from from two out of three (67.1%) to less than one out of three (30.7%).  These trends are comparable to if not faster than the corresponding figures for American youth.

In other words, consider this the final nail in the coffin for the specious claim that the 21 drinking age had anything more than a minor impact on overall teen or young adult drinking.

Saturday, June 3, 2017

The Dark Side of the Icelandic Model

Recently, we posted an article about the seemingly successful Youth in Iceland strategy for reducing teen substance abuse. To wit, since 1997, the consumption of alcohol, tobacco, cannabis, and other substances among 15-16 year olds has plummeted theremore so than any other nation, according to surveys.  And in fact, by 2016, Iceland was able to boast having the cleanest-living teens in the industrialized world, in contrast from being home to Europe's heaviest-drinking teens twenty years ago.

This was done through a combination of things: 1) laws were changed to raise the age of majority from 16 to 18, raise the smoking age for tobacco to 18 and the drinking age to 20, and set a 10 pm curfew law for people under 16, 2) most parents pledging to basically close ranks and keep their kids on a fairly tight leash overall, at least by European standards, and 3) the government investing in providing sports and other recreational activities for young people to give them something to do as a healthy alternative to drugs or alcohol.   And while not explicitly considered a part of the strategy, Iceland's very high alcohol taxes no doubt played a role as well.  We at Twenty-One Debunked noted how this strategy was a mixed bag and would support it if (and only if) it could be done without the ageism/adultism, like Kaunas, Lithuania (and some other cities) supposedly was able to do.

But one thing we did not look at right away was what happens when Icelandic youth finally do come of age.  The surveys used to support the Icelandic Prevention Model are of 15-16 year olds, but curiously the model's supporters don't even mention any data for people just a few years older.  Surely there should be a positive spillover or at least a cohort effect that follows youth exposed to the strategy if the ageists' theories are correct, so such a glaring omission is very curious indeed.

We think we know why.  For adults, Iceland is in fact one of the drunkest and druggiest countries in the world.  This is particularly true for prescription pills:  they seem to lead the world (or at least Europe) in the use/abuse of opioid painkillers, sedatives, tranquilizers, and stimulants.  And such drugs, particularly opioids, have been on the rise lately even as they have fallen in many other countries.  And despite fairly strict drug laws, the use of illicit drugs, both cannabis as well as hard drugs, have also increased significantly recent years as well. Iceland also notably leads the world in antidepressant use, and is also on the increase, which can be true for a number of reasons.   Though their overall per-capita alcohol consumption is below the OECD average, it has nonetheless risen 35% since 1992 despite recent alcohol tax hikes, and when they do drink, they really drink themselves into oblivion--kinda like stereotypical American college freshmen.  Of course, Iceland was already kind of like that before the Youth in Iceland strategy began in 1998, as well as for cohorts that came of age before that, but the fact that such widespread substance use/abuse has held steady or increased for the cohorts of adults that were affected by the law changes shows just how hollow the whole thing really was.

Oh, and for those who think that America's so-called "hook-up culture" among young people is out of control, well, let's just say that you've never been to Iceland.  And not just for young people either.  Over there it seems that "f**k first, names later" is the norm, often literally, and they are usually under the influence of alcohol when they do it.  Not to knock casual sex per se, or to shame anyone for it, but it is nonetheless sobering to note that Iceland leads Europe in terms of STD's, or at least chlamydia in particular, a disease that has even been nicknamed the "Reykjavik Handshake".  So apparently many Icelanders are getting so wasted that they fail to use condoms as directed, if at all, when they hook up.

In other words, the otherwise-progressive Iceland has basically become Little America in that regard, and not necessarily in a good way either.  That is what happens when ageists in power focus only on young people while ignoring the pink elephant in the room--the behavior of their elders.  The contrast between "abstain from everything" adolescence and "anything goes" adulthood couldn't be any more stark, and simply raising age limits or revoking civil rights from young people merely kicks the proverbial can down the road.  It's the Law of Eristic Escalation in action:  imposition of order leads to escalation of chaos/disorder, particularly if the order in question imposed is arbitrary and/or coercive. Renowned sociologist and youth-rights activist Mike Males would surely have a field day with Iceland!