Report: County metro area is ‘drunkest city’

But state Health Department said it found the counties not statistically different

The Kahului-Wailuku-Lahaina statistical metropolitan area is the “drunkest city” in Hawaii, according to an analysis by 24/7 Wall St., an online financial news and opinion outlet.

The report reviewed data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and County Health Rankings & Roadmaps, put together by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute, to identify the metropolitan areas reporting the highest levels of binge and heavy drinking in each state.

It was authored by Samuel Stebbins and Evan Comen and published Monday.

For Hawaii, the “drunkest” statistical metro area was Kahului-Wailuku-Lahaina with 21.8 percent of adults binge or heavy drinkers, the report said. That was higher than the 20.5 percent for the state and 18 percent nationally.

The 24/7 Wall St. analysis by state and metro areas also said that the Kahului-Wailuku-Lahaina area was one of only five nationwide in which half, 50.5 percent, of all roadway fatalities involved alcohol.

As defined by the CDC, binge drinking is four or more drinks in a single sitting for women and five or more for men. Heavy drinking is at least eight drinks per week for women and 15 for men.

In areas of more excessive drinking, populations tended to have higher median incomes than areas where the people drink less, the report said. Metro areas of higher drinking levels also tended to be better educated with more adults with a bachelor’s degree than the state as a whole.

The state Health Department did not confirm the conclusions in the 24/7 Wall St. report. In citing county-by-county data for 2011-15, Maui County had the highest binge and heavy drinking prevalence among adults but that was not statistically “significantly different from other counties,” said department spokeswoman Janice Okubo.

Maui County had 22.5 percent of adults as heavy or binge drinkers, followed by Hawaii County, 21.7 percent; Kauai County, 20.9 percent, and Honolulu County, 20.2 percent. However, the statistical margin of error left Maui County figures overlapping the other counties, meaning “there is no difference,” she said.

Looking at binge drinking only, the comparison between counties narrows, though Maui County was still at the top with 20.3 percent of adults. Hawaii County was 19.9 percent; Kauai County, 19.3 percent; and Honolulu County, 19 percent.

“When it comes to binge drinking among adults, Maui does not differ from any of the other counties in the state of Hawaii,” Okubo said.

Maui County is second in heavy drinking at 9.8 percent of adults with Kauai County topping the list at 10.1 percent. Hawaii County is at 9.2 percent and Honolulu County at 6.7 percent.

“By community, based on data, we see no evidence of the Kahului metro area having substantially higher rates of binge or heavy drinking than other communities in the state,” Okubo said. In fact, the community with the highest rates of binge or heavy drinking is Molokai, she said, adding that “Kahului does not stand out in any meaningful way.”

The Health Department data show that people with less education are more likely to binge or drink heavily, she said. There is “practically no difference” based on income.

Bar and liquor store officials contacted in the Kahului area earlier this week refuted the drunkest-in-the-state assessment for the metro area.

“I can’t agree with that,” said a manager at Koho’s Grill & Bar, who wanted to remain anonymous.

Patrons at Koho’s drink one to three beers, said the manager of the restaurant/bar at the Queen Ka’ahumanu Center. “They don’t get themselves so inebriated they cannot drive themselves home.”

Brad Sundin, owner Kahului Ale House, also could not agree with the “drunkest” distinction.

“I wouldn’t say that. I don’t think it is,” he said. “I think Maui County as a whole is trying to crack down on that.”

Sundin noted that his establishment has cut back its alcohol serving hours with last call at 10:30 p.m. and closing at 11 p.m.

“We’ve been trying to make it more of a family place,” he said.

Jud Cunningham, chief executive officer of Aloha House, which offers substance abuse treatment programs, said he had no data agreeing or disagreeing with the 24/7 Wall St. report.

“I don’t know why there is any greater problem there (Kahului-Wailuku-Lahaina) than Hilo or Kona or especially tourist areas,” he said.

Cunningham said the people who come to Aloha House have more serious addiction issues.

“We’re so overwhelmed with the numbers of people who are coming to us . . . with the disease of addiction,” he said. “We are not so much thinking about the binge or heavy drinkers.”

* Lee Imada can be reached at leeimada@mauinews.com.

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