Oregon has the 3rd-highest rate of alcohol-related deaths in the country: 22.2 per 100,000 persons, placing it behind only New Mexico and Wyoming. That statistic is worrying enough on its own, but it is even more disturbing to learn that “alcohol deaths in Oregon more than doubled between 1999 and 2015,” according to a recent article in The Oregonian.
The article focused on a newly-published study from the Trust for America’s Health. “Pain in the Nation” (see link below) lays out the alarming growth of alcohol, drugs and suicide as causes of death throughout the United States and offers detailed state-by-state breakdowns both of current data and of trends for the next decade. Usefully, it provides both an overall number for the three categories as well as detailed breakdowns of each. It reports that Oregon has the 10th highest death rate overall (i.e. from alcohol, drugs and suicide combined), but appears to have an especially severe problem where alcohol-related deaths are concerned. Washington fares somewhat better than Oregon, ranking 21st overall and having only the 10th highest rate of alcohol-related deaths. It is notable, however, that, as in Oregon, Washington’s alcohol-related death rate has increased dramatically over the last decade, rising by 37 percent.
The Oregonian’s report on the study quotes state health officials saying they are not surprised by the findings. The paper quotes from a 2014 state Health Department report which found both that binge drinking has risen markedly in recent years and that it is more widespread than many people think: “More young adults binge drink at least once each month… but the older adults who binge drink do so more often.”
With this in mind, this is a good moment to revisit Oregon’s Dram Shop laws. These are detailed in ORS 471.565 and make it clear that restaurant and bar owners or staff, people selling alcohol (such as store clerks) and people hosting private events (a “social host” in legal parlance) can be held liable for “injury, death or damages caused by intoxication” if “the licensee, permittee or social host served or provided alcoholic beverages to the patron or guest while the patron or guest was visibly intoxicated.” (Section 2a)
It is important to understand that this does not exempt a drunk person from responsibility for the damage they cause through their own reckless or negligent actions. It does, however, offer a crucial legal tool to that drunk person’s victims when they seek to obtain justice and compensation via our legal system.
As a Portland drunk driving victims’ attorney practicing in both Oregon and Washington I hope that readers will take a few minutes to look at the detailed information on both states in the Pain in the Nation report. The growth of alcohol abuse in general and binge drinking in particular here in the Pacific Northwest is very worrying. The non-profit that prepared this report is to be commended for bringing it to our attention.
The Oregonian: Oregon ranks 3rd in alcohol-related deaths, study says
Trust for America’s Health: Pain in the Nation