'Death by Alcohol' Warns of College Binge Drinking Risks

ByABC News via via logo

June 12, 2006— -- In high school, Sam Spady was captain of the cheerleading squad, class president, an honor student, and homecoming queen.

Her parents, Patty and Rick, expected their daughter would continue down her road of success when she left for Colorado State University. Spady's life was cut tragically short during her sophomore year, when she was 19 years old.

She was found dead in a fraternity house on Labor Day weekend 2004 after a night of binge drinking.

"When we sent Sam off to school, we were confident she was responsible enough to take care of herself," Patty Spady said. "We didn't realize the environment that she was heading off into, and she just got caught up in that style of drinking."

Spady's parents have established the SAM -- Student Alcohol Management -- Foundation in her memory, to educate parents and children about the dangers of undergraduate alcoholism.

They have also made a 30-minute documentary, "Death by Alcohol: The Sam Spady Story," that they are taking to high schools and colleges across the country.

Binge drinking for men is commonly defined as having five or more drinks in two hours; for women it is four or more drinks in two hours.

A federal government study found that 48 percent of college-age kids engaged in binge drinking. Each year, college drinking contributes to an estimated 1,400 student deaths, 500,000 injuries, and 70,000 cases of sexual assault or date rape, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, a part of the federal National Institutes of Health.

The number of college students considered binge drinkers -- around 44 percent -- has stayed about the same for the last 10 years. Many, including the Spadys, though, say it is the culture of drinking that has changed.

"It involves drinking games. Involves women trying to keep up with the men," Patty Spady said. "It's just the culture taking place."

According to one recent study, consumption of alcohol among women ages 18 to 24 increased by 33 percent in five years. Sam Spady was drinking vanilla-flavored vodka the night she died, and investigators believe she may have consumed as many as 40 drinks.

"Liquor is different today than it was in my day," said Barry Bortnick, the executive producer of "Death by Alcohol." "Now it has flavor to it. It's almost like soda. And kids have the bulletproof feeling. They're away from home for the first time in their lives, exposed to a whole different culture, and it's very easy to party too hard."

On the night of Sam Spady's death, she was left in a room at a fraternity house to "sleep off" her drunkenness.

It wasn't until the next day when a member of the fraternity was showing his mom around the house that her dead body was discovered. Autopsy results found her blood alcohol content was 0.436 percent -- five times the legal limit.

Patty and Rick Spady believe Sam would have survived if she had been taken to the hospital. As part of their educational campaign, they distribute wallet-size cards listing warning signs -- loss of consciousness; irregular breathing; cold, clammy skin; and, vomiting without waking up -- and what to do if you see someone displaying these symptoms.

So far, the foundation has received 4,000 requests for the cards.

For more information on the SAM Foundation, Click Here.

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