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State health care providers to propose big changes to stop drinking culture

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Wisconsin health providers will propose big changes in state laws today to battle the culture of drinking.

University of Wisconsin Health in Madison will announce a coalition called AWARE, which stands for All-Wisconsin Alcohol Risk Education.

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Its organizers will encourage other health care groups to join, along with police, schools and advocacy groups.

Among the proposals they could pursue in the state Legislature are mandatory driving suspensions for underage drinkers making three-time OWI a felony, legalizing sobriety checkpoints, and making health insurers cover injuries in traffic accidents for those impaired.

Lisa Brunette of UW Health said her group provided $6 million in charity care last year to those who were drunk when they were admitted.

UW Medical School dean Robert Golden said Wisconsin's laws are out of touch with the rest of the country, and people need to be more educated about the problems.

Thirty percent of accident victims treated at the UW Hospital last year were in alcohol-related crashes. That's up from 11 percent in 2000.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel said the total costs of drinking crashes were $935 million statewide in 2007.

UW officials said its alcohol coalition has been in the works since summer when Gannett Wisconsin Newspapers did a major series on the costs of the Wisconsin's drinking tradition.

The Journal Sentinel ran its own series in the fall, something Brunette said was a major impetus for the new coalition.

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