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Alcohol-related problems on tap for New Year's Eve

Jacob Tierney
| Friday, Dec. 30, 2016, 8:12 p.m.
The Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board is one of the nation’s largest purchasers of wine and liquor.
Heidi Murrin | Trib Total Media
The Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board is one of the nation’s largest purchasers of wine and liquor.

Dr. Jerry Taylor knows his staff is in for a long night New Year's Eve.

“We always see a lot of alcohol-related injuries in the emergency department, but that number probably doubles (on the holiday),” said Taylor, medical director of the emergency department at Allegheny Valley Hospital in Natrona Heights.

Doctors and law enforcement agencies are preparing to handle the large number of alcohol-related incidents that typically accompany New Year's Eve. They urge merrymakers to temper their holiday cheer.

Extra doctors will be staffed and on call to handle the number of patients expected to come in with injuries from drunken-driving crashes, tipsy tumbles and alcohol-fueled brawls, Taylor said.

“Alcohol impairs judgment, so people do stupid things,” he said.

Brain injuries in particular rise on the holidays, said Dr. Shaker Milad, who works at several area hospitals and owns three Shaker Urgent Care centers in Westmoreland County.

“Between car accidents and falls, it's a very common type of injury. Some patients get brain bleed from that,” he said.

Police are stepping up efforts to keep drunken drivers off highways.

“Particularly around the holidays, our troopers are going to be out in force looking for impaired drivers,” said Trooper Ryan Tarkowski, a state police spokesman.

Troopers are participating in the national Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over campaign, sending out extra patrols and setting up DUI checkpoints through Jan. 1.

They're not just looking for drivers who have been drinking, Tarkowski said. Specially trained troopers can recognize the symptoms of many drugs.

Between Dec. 31, 2015, and Jan. 2, 2016, state police responded to 404 crashes. Alcohol was a factor in 52 of them, resulting in two deaths, Tarkowski said. Troopers made 309 arrests for driving under the influence during the same period. The numbers don't include crashes and arrests handled by local police departments.

Anti-DUI activist Debby Iwaniec of Ligonier urged New Year's revelers to make plans for getting home safely before they start drinking.

Her son, Trooper Kenton Iwaniec, was killed by a drunken driver in 2008.

“You can't make the decision to drive after you've already been drinking. It's like Russian roulette,” she said.

Milad said he usually urges patients not to drink at all. That often doesn't work, so he advises the next-best thing: caution and moderation.

“You need to be a very moderate and mild drinker, just a few here and there,” he said. “Sometimes it's very difficult.”

Taylor urged drinkers to make sure to have plenty of food and water throughout the night, warning the only way people can get alcohol out of their system is to wait.

Jacob Tierney is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at (724) 836-6646 or jtierney@tribweb.com.

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