UCSB’s efforts to prevent irresponsible drinking will be toasted in Storke Plaza today at 11:30 a.m.

A panel of seven advisers awarded UCSB’s Alcohol and Other Drug Program (AOP) with “The Regional Grand Prize for Drinking and Driving Prevention.” The panelists chose the program based on its all-encompassing program, which focuses on problems related to alcohol and drugs on both the campus and in the community, said Steven Block, a senior research assistant for the Automobile Club of Southern California.

Similar programs at other universities will focus on one or two issues, like binge drinking or students who drink alone and will sometimes ignore drug-related problems. Block said the judges liked that UCSB’s program also relies on help from administrators and students, while other programs are mostly peer-based.

Despite UCSB’s image as a party school, AOP Director Judy Hearsum said this reputation is unfounded.

“Many students are under the impression that we’re the worst party school,” she said. “This is absolutely not true. We are actually right in the middle. Some schools are higher than us and some are lower.”

Student Health Services founded the AOP at UCSB in 1980, the first of its kind in the University of California school system and one of the first in the country. The program is designed to promote moderation and responsible use of alcohol and drugs and to support students who don’t use these substances.

Over the last several years, the AOP distributed surveys to determine the effectiveness of the program in deterring drug and alcohol use among students.

In 1989, results from the survey determined that 12 percent of students at UCSB did not drink at all. In 1999, this number jumped to 17 percent. The surveys also found the number of students who partake in “high-risk” drinking, consuming five or more drinks in a sitting, has remained steady.

In 1990, the University of California Police Dept.’s statistics showed that there were 27 reported incidents of people driving under the influence (DUI) on university-owned property and 62 reported incidents of intoxication in public. The total number of other alcohol-related offenses – possessing alcohol as a minor, holding an open container in public and urinating in public – accounted for 45 of the total alcohol-related offenses.

The number of alcohol-related offenses rose in 1995 to 123 reported incidents before falling to 31 reported cases in 2000, including 21 reported DUIs and 36 reports of public intoxication.

The declining numbers of incidents on campus, Chancellor Henry Yang said, is a tribute to the program’s effectiveness and reflects the overall reputation of the university.

“We have worked long and hard to improve our image as a campus with the highest academic quality and rigor, but also with some fun,” he said.

UCSB competed against universities in New Mexico, Texas, Hawai’i, Utah and Nevada and won the first-annual regional award of $5000 from the Automobile Association of America and the Higher Education Center for Alcohol and Other Drug Prevention.

The AOP will use the award money to send UCSB students to a drug and alcohol awareness conference in San Francisco. The selected students will not only attend the conference, but present information as peer educators as well, Hearsum said.

“We do have a very strong peer health education system through [Students Teaching Alcohol and Other Drug Responsibility (STAR)], so I will be sending some of them to the conference and, in addition, we want to be sending students that aren’t already involved in prevention,” she said.

Following the award presentation, AOP is hosting Safe Graduation in Storke Plaza from 12 p.m. to 2 p.m. The event, sponsored by STAR, will include games, relay races and other activities.

Participants will also be encouraged to sign a petition promising they will not drink and drive around graduation.

“We are not against people drinking during graduation,” Safe Graduation Co-coordinator Susi Garcia said. “But if people are going to drink, we hope they do not drink and drive.”