To the editor:
As KPC’s top story of 2019, the West Noble community and a loving family lost a wonderful man last year. Chuck Schlemmer, loving father and beloved teacher and coach, passed away Aug. 21 from injuries when he was struck on his bicycle by a vehicle.
The truck was driven by a man with a .27 blood alcohol level, more than three times the legal limit. It would not be an exaggeration to say that Mr. Schlemmer was murdered by alcohol, or by the effects of its abuse. There were other less known victims of alcohol abuse in the KPC service area, and their losses were equally tragic, though less publicized.
In the same month (August) that the Schlemmer killing occurred, 40 people in the U.S. were gunned down in an ever-accelerating epidemic of gun violence. Our shock and horror over alcohol related deaths should be no less than that of gun violence. They both rob innocent people of life, and cause unspeakable grief for loved ones and communities.
Alcohol has no positive health benefits. (Sorry wine lovers, but it is the fruit that contains antioxidants, and their nutritional value must be balanced against the deleterious effects of the alcohol that results from fermentation.) Alcohol kills brain cells, as well as cells in every other tissue of the body. The popularity of wine and other low-alcohol beverages has grown, and with it a culture of acceptance and even romanticism. Wine consumption is considered to be sophisticated, a beverage of the middle and upper classes. In recent years, the establishment of wineries and craft breweries has been celebrated and viewed as an economic and cultural boon to our area.
But the alcohol in wine is just as destructive as the alcohol from a backyard still, or cheap discount booze. There’s another side that’s not as “classy” as the wine and craft beer industries.
The National Institute of Alcohol Abuse reports that 88,000 Americans annually suffer alcohol-related deaths, making alcohol the third leading cause of death after tobacco and poor diet/physical inactivity. A 2014 study showed that 9,967 deaths were due to alcohol-impaired driving, which is 31% of all driving fatalities. According to the Center for Disease Control, health risks from alcohol consumption include high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke and liver diseases (47% of all liver disease cases). It increases the risk of cancer of the mouth, esophagus, larynx, liver and breast. It results in learning and memory problems, early onset of dementia, mental health problems such as depression and anxiety. Alcohol spawns social problems such as lost productivity, divorce, domestic violence and unemployment. It causes dependence (alcoholism) which is accompanied by a host of personal and social ills.
All too many parents have buried a beloved child, many in their teen years, because someone loaded up on alcohol and thought they could handle an automobile. A motor vehicle driven by a person under the influence of alcohol is a speeding missile with a failed guidance system. Should anyone have the right to turn a car or truck into a weapon capable of destroying the lives of innocent people in the blink of an eye? Obviously not, but it happens all the time and everywhere.
Most people will not give up alcohol completely, but we still need to change our thinking about alcohol and recognize that it is a dangerous substance that can maim and destroy, not a sign of sophistication and high class. Functionally, there is no difference between a person who is driving drunk and an unstable person with a loaded gun when it comes to the safety of others. The result can be the anguish that has been experienced in the wake of Chuck and others’ tragic passing. We need to wake up to the deadly effects of alcohol.
Robert P. Neilson