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Colleges in War Against Drinking

November 1, 1999

PITTSBURGH (AP) _ University of Pittsburgh student Adrienne Palaia and three friends knocked back a few shots on a recent Thursday night, then hit the town to the strains of strings and woodwinds.

The latest technology in the war on college drinking is a couple of 450-watt speakers outside a campus police station, filling the night with Mozart. The hope is that classical music calms so convincingly that some of those students heading into the bars across the street might think better of their plans and stay sober instead.

No way, said Palaia, who gives her age as ``almost 21.″

``This would put me to sleep when I came home _ drunk,″ she said.

Police admit the idea is little more than an experiment, but the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board has given state universities money for such shots in the dark. Since the board began handing out the grants last October, more than half of them _ $554,000 _ have gone to 51 college campuses and the communities that surround them.

The rest of the almost $1 million has been used to create pilot projects to enforce underage drinking laws around the state.

Student drinking deaths across the country _ at least 16 since 1997 _ persuaded officials to target college drinking, said Stephen Schmidt, director of the board’s bureau of alcohol education.

Studies show college students are more likely to drink heavily than other people their age and the population at large, said Charles O’Brien, a University of Pennsylvania professor of psychiatry who studies the treatment of alcoholism.

``Most reduce drinking by age 30 or so, but some continue on and become alcoholics,″ he said.

And the atmosphere that can come with college life has been known to spill into surrounding neighborhoods, Schmidt said. University of Pittsburgh police chief Deborah Furka said most citations for noise, fights, underage drinking and other alcohol-related offenses go not to students but others drawn to college partying.

When the state Liquor Control Board began handing out grants, it reserved its two biggest _ at $25,000 each _ for the University of Pittsburgh and Penn State, which has had to deal with Pennsylvania’s highest-profile problems.

Police blamed drinking for rioting at State College in 1998, and a student was hospitalized this fall with a 0.68 blood-alcohol level _ nearly seven times the legal driving limit. She downed 21 shots of liquor to celebrate her 21st birthday.

At Penn State, officials are promoting alcohol-free football tailgate parties and other events, particularly those which would be held at night when students are looking for fun.

The University of Pittsburgh plans to use its grant money on anti-drinking advertising blitzes, student pizza parties and free sweatshirts for students who keep their dorms free of alcohol-related problems.

Not all students laugh off prevention efforts.

University of Pittsburgh student Justin Janos, 22, said while many students go out drinking to be social, alcohol-free parties like one recently held on campus provide a good alternative.

``There are other ways to meet people,″ he said.

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