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Message from the Interim Health Officer for Los Angeles County
Jeffrey Gunzenhauser, MD, MPH

April 12, 2016

Alcohol is a huge continuing problem that affects many lives and can tear families apart. Alcohol is also the second leading cause of premature death and disability in Los Angeles County, contributing to more than 1000 deaths every year. In addition, the financial costs to society are staggering. In 2014, alcohol cost Los Angeles County more than $10 billion in related health care and criminal justice costs, lost productivity, vehicle and property damages, and death.

Earlier this month, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors recognized April as Alcohol Awareness Month to increase public awareness and understanding about alcohol abuse and alcohol-related issues. This local acknowledgment is part of a national effort, sponsored by the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (NCADD), to highlight the importance of alcohol and drug abuse prevention and treatment.

This year’s theme "Talk Early, Talk Often: Parents Can Make a Difference in Teen Alcohol Use" draws attention to the problem of drinking, particularly binge drinking, among young people and children, and highlights the role parents can play in preventing teen alcohol use. Reducing underage drinking is critical to securing a healthy future for America’s youth. A key strategy is to provide education on the dangers of alcohol and/or drug abuse and its effects on children — and parents need to know the important part they can play.

In Los Angeles County, 23 percent of youth ages 12 to 20 reported drinking at least one alcoholic beverage in the past 30 days. Furthermore, 15 percent of youth under 21 reported binge drinking, that is, drinking 4-5 drinks or more during a single session. For teens, binge drinking can lead to dangerous and unfortunate consequences that can have lifelong impacts. Excessive alcohol use among young people is linked to motor vehicle accidents, violence and injury, suicide, problems at school, alcohol poisoning, unsafe sex and other risky behaviors, even for those who may never develop a dependence or addiction.

We encourage parents and children, friends and families, and community members and leaders to reach out to each other and talk about the impact of alcohol use within their homes and communities. Here are some tips to get the conversation started:

Talk to your Teen about Alcohol and Drugs

  • Listen and Encourage Open Dialogue: Remember, this is a conversation, not a lecture. Showing kids that we are really listening to their thoughts and concerns is an important part of helping them.
  • Set Expectations: Clearly state the “house rules” about drinking. The expectations should reflect your own beliefs and values, and the family should agree upon the limits.
  • Provide Good Reasons Not to Drink: Focus on what your teen can gain by avoiding drinking: higher self-esteem, positive outlook, self-respect, or avoiding embarrassing and harmful situations. While it’s important to acknowledge the consequences of alcohol use, avoid scare tactics.
  • Be Positive: Many parents have discovered that talking about alcohol and drugs with their children has built bridges rather than walls between them and have proudly watched those children learn to make healthy, mature decisions on their own.
  • Know and Share the Facts: Educate yourself on the dangers of teen alcohol use and effective prevention strategies. If your family has a history of problems with alcohol, include this information as part of your honest and open dialogue with your children, just as you would with any other disease, such as heart disease, diabetes or cancer.

With everyone's help, we can prevent the deadly and costly harms caused by alcohol abuse, and help those who need treatment find support and overcome alcohol use disorders.

Public Health Is Working For You
At the Department of Public Health we work with health providers, community partners and the public to raise awareness and understanding about alcohol and drug abuse.

  • The Substance Abuse Prevention and Control (SAPC) program leads and facilitates the delivery of a full spectrum of prevention, treatment, and recovery support services proven to reduce the impact of substance use, abuse, and addiction in Los Angeles County.
  • Anyone looking for treatment, information and resources in Los Angeles County can call toll-free (888) 742-7900 or visit the Public Health website.
  • About 15,000 individuals received treatment from publicly funded treatment centers in Los Angeles County each year (2005-2013), according to Los Angeles County Participant Reporting System data.

Previous Messages

02/10/16 - There has been a lot of information on Zika in the news lately. Below are some ways we can address this disease to keep our friends and family safe, and to prevent Zika transmission in our County.

1/14/16 - January is Cervical Health Awareness Month. It’s a great time to learn more about cervical cancer and ways to prevent this disease from affecting family and friends.

12/08/15 - I would like to wish everyone a happy and healthy holiday season! I hope many of you are able to spend time with family and friends while enjoying and sharing your cultural traditions. To help you and your loved ones celebrate safely over the next few weeks, here are some tips and guidelines to keep in mind:

11/02/15 - November 16-22, 2015 is Get Smart Week. The goal of Get Smart Week is to raise awareness about antibiotic resistance.

10/09/15 - The 2015-2016 influenza season has started. Make sure you and your family are protected! Get your influenza vaccine now. Influenza, or the flu, is a virus that causes mild to serious illness.

09/08/15 - Prescription drugs play a critical role in treating people when they are sick or feel pain. It is also very important to properly dispose of all unused or expired medications. Unused medication can pose a major health and safety risk if left in the home.

08/10/15 - Last Thursday the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) announced a case of human plague in California. The patient lives in LA County and was hospitalized for the illness after a family trip to Yosemite State National Park and Stanislaus National Forest. Officials are still investigating where the individual may have contracted the disease.

07/06/15 - I am happy to report that new Ebola cases in West Africa have significantly declined due to the extraordinary efforts by healthcare professionals to care for infected individuals and reduce community transmission. The number of new weekly cases in West Africa has remained below 30 for several weeks and efforts remain strong to bring the epidemic to a closure as soon as possible.

04/22/15 - Progress continues to be made as the world responds to the Ebola epidemic in West Africa. Although the situation has improved greatly and the weekly number of new cases has fallen well below 100, we must remain vigilant until the number of new cases in affected countries reaches zero. Here in Los Angeles County, we continue to closely monitor individuals who travel here from affected countries and who may be at risk of developing Ebola.

03/17/15 - The world response to the Ebola epidemic in West Africa has decreased the number of new cases occurring there and there is hope that the epidemic can be stopped sometime this year. Here in Los Angeles County, we continue to closely monitor individuals who travel here from affected countries and who may be at risk of developing Ebola. We maintain our surveillance and actively monitor a small number of travelers each day who have

11/24/14 - Earlier this week the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) added Mali to the list of Ebola-affected countries, which continues to include Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone. To date, more than 15,000 individuals have contracted Ebola during this latest epidemic and there have been 5,420 related deaths worldwide. In the United States, a second Ebola-related death occurred last Monday after Dr. Martin Salia was transferred to Nebraska Medical Center from Sierra Leone for medical care following several days of illness. His tragic passing highlights the critical importance of early intervention and care in recovery.

11/17/14 - Ebola outbreaks continue to affect Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone in West Africa with some new cases reported in Mali. While the rate of new cases in Liberia and Guinea has leveled off, the rate of rise in Sierra Leone continues to accelerate. To date, approximately 14, 000 individuals have contracted Ebola during this latest epidemic and there have been 5,160 related deaths worldwide. The World Health Organization (WHO) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) will continue to monitor the situation and coordinate relief efforts to control the spread of infection. It is important to note that only two cases of Ebola have been exported from West Africa to other parts of the world, which is a testament to the effectiveness of the strategies that are in place to prevent spread. Those two cases are, of course, the case that was diagnosed in Dallas on September 30, and the more recent case in a physician in New York City who has recovered and been released.

11/10/14 - The Department of Public Health continues to coordinate efforts to ensure we have an effective strategy to respond to a potential case of Ebola in LA County. As part of these ongoing efforts, we met last week with the Hospital Association of Southern California and the California Association for Health Facilities. The meetings were held jointly with LA County Emergency Medical Services and provided hospitals and long-term health care facilities with an update on Ebola, our current activities, and response plans for LA County. Each meeting was an opportunity to strengthen partnerships and facilitate coordination with all health care providers who may play a role in identifying and treating an individual with Ebola.

11/4/14 - The State Health Officer from the California Department of Public Health recently issued a risk-based quarantine order for any individuals coming into California who had contact with a person confirmed with Ebola in Liberia, Sierra Leone, or Guinea. The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health will comply with the State’s order.
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10/28/14 - Last week a doctor based in New York, who had treated patients with Ebola in Guinea, tested positive for Ebola. In Los Angeles County there are no confirmed or suspected cases of Ebola, and we remain prepared to respond should a case happen here.
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10/21/14 - As the news continues to evolve around Ebola, I want to reassure all residents in Los Angeles County that, to date, there are no suspected or confirmed cases of Ebola in Los Angeles County. This past week, we have worked diligently to update and strengthen our plans to address Ebola. We are more prepared today than we were yesterday, and we will be more prepared tomorrow than we are today.
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