Anyone who passed out in a drunken stupor on a city street and awoke to discover this story about San Francisco's burgeoning alcoholism rate in a nearby Examiner can label himself a newsmaker.
Per the story -- and this troubling data -- San Francisco's rate of alcohol-related emergency room visits has popped like a champagne cork. Between 2006 and 2008, 43 hospital visits for every 10,000 city residents were due to overdrinking. Between '09 and '11, however, that tally jumped to 61.
There's no way to spin this as a good thing -- but it's important what manner of bad messages are imparted. First off, a no-brainer: The data reveals that the number of city residents not visiting the ER in a drunken haze has dropped from 9,957 out of 10,000 to 9,939. So, yes, alcohol-fueled visits have jumped by 42 percent (scary). But the overall rate has only risen from 0.4 percent to 0.6 percent (less so).
The other conclusion is that San Francisco likely isn't housing a greater number of alcoholics than in yesteryear, but, rather, the city's alcoholics are drinking themselves into stupors more aggressively.
Numbers astutely noted in the Ex show that 26,000 people spent time in a city "sobering center" by the end of 2011 -- but this only represented 7,500 individuals. Not surprisingly, "roughly 80 percent of the people sent to the sobering center are repeat clients; 80 percent of clients also had a history of homelessness."
Saying San Franciscans on the whole are drinking more recklessly now than in the past is akin to saying that city residents writ large are better at baseball than other cities' residents because San Francisco's most advanced ballplayers -- the Giants -- are better than other cities'.
What to do about the habitual drunks who monopolize city services is a Gordian Knot; Malcolm Gladwell famously touched on the subject via the sad tale of Murray Barr, a homeless alcoholic who cost the people or Reno a goldmine ("Milion-Dollar Murray").
In the past, the city's attempts to address this situation were ineffectual and downright insulting. As we wrote previously about a 2010 attempt to extract a per-drink fee from casual bar-goers to fund services aimed at chronic inebriates:
It charges Friday-night tipplers and folks buying a bottle of wine at Safeway to look out for the city's most desperate, dysfunctional alcoholics -- and thereby equates all drinkers as part of the same continuum. ... But these centers are not stocked with people who began the night
drinking craft beers at a brewpub or doing shots with their work buddies
after-hours. These folks are 9 a.m. drunks who go to liquor stores and
buy large bottles of potent booze to get loaded and stay loaded.
Charging casual drinkers to fund their treatment makes about as much
sense as dinging folks who buy Playboy magazine in order to keep the
doors open in centers that aid victims of sex crimes.