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December 3, 1997

Impact of Banning Alcohol on Outpatient Visits in Barrow, Alaska

Author Affiliations

From the North Slope Borough Physician Services (Dr Chiu) and Samuel Simmonds Memorial Hospital Physician Services (Dr Perez), Barrow, Alaska, and the Prevention Research Center, Berkeley, Calif (Dr Parker). Dr Chiu is now with Tanana Valley Clinic, Fairbanks, Alaska, and Dr Parker is now with the Presley Center for Crime and Justice Studies, University of California, Riverside.

JAMA. 1997;278(21):1775-1777. doi:10.1001/jama.1997.03550210073042

Context.  —Community availability of alcohol affects alcohol consumption patterns and alcohol-related health and social problems. In Barrow, Alaska, an isolated community at the northernmost reaches of the United States, during a 33-month period, possession and importation of alcohol were legal, completely banned, made legal again, and then banned again.

Objective.  —To determine the impact of these public policy changes on alcohol-related outpatient visits at the area hospital.

Design.  —Retrospective review of outpatient records; time-series analysis of alcohol-related visits with respect to community alcohol policy.

Main Outcome Measures.  —Total monthly outpatient visits for alcohol-related problems.

Results.  —There was a substantial decrease in the number of alcohol-related outpatient visits when the ban on possession and importation was imposed compared with baseline. When the ban was lifted, outpatient visits increased; when the ban was reimposed, the number of outpatient visits again decreased. Interrupted time-series analyses confirm that the alcohol ban, its lifting, and its reimposition had a statistically significant and negative effect on the number of alcohol-related out-patient visits (P<.05).

Conclusion.  —In a geographically isolated community, the prohibition of alcohol can be an effective public health intervention, reducing the health problems associated with alcohol use.