'High-risk alcohol use is very much tolerated in our community'

'High-risk alcohol use is very much tolerated in our community'

EUGENE, Ore. - As the Ducks prepared for the Fiesta Bowl on Thursday, beer sales were brisk back home at the Safeway at 18th and Oak southwest of the University of Oregon campus.

That isn't unusual. What has changed, however, is the merchandise on display next to the beer.

"Basically on a display like this you might see some cups or some table tennis balls," store manager Marc Carlson said.

But the implements of "beer pong" are gone.

Safeway employees have started "putting snacks and chips and those types of things on this aisle," Carlson said. "That would be a change that we made here."

It's one of many changes that add up to an effort by the Eugene Prevention Coalition to curb youth binge drinking in Lane County.

They have good reason to try: alcohol-related death rates in the county are twice the national average.

"High-risk alcohol use is very much tolerated in our community," said Lindsey Adkisson, a Lane County health analyst. "It's something that's considered a rite of passage for our young people."

And it's a rite that officials say can lead to trouble.

"This is something I think is a community issue," said Dr. Paul Shang, dead of students at UO, "and we really need to emphasize that this is not going to be acceptable."

The local prevention coalition asked managers of about 20 grocery stores to take down their beer pong promotions and be mindful of the target of their marketing.

The coalition said Carlson is one of the first Eugene store managers to take down the beer game displays and try a different approach to alcohol marketing.

Adkisson said the goal is not to ban beer pong but promote more responsible behavior. 

"I think it's pretty obvious," Carlson said. "You know, somebody's health or somebody's safety isn't worth a few extra dollars in sales."