WINONA, Minn. – On the morning after the house party on Johnson Street, Jenna Foellmi and several other twentysomethings lay sprawled on the beds and couches. When a friend reached over to wake her, Foellmi was cold to the touch.
Foellmi, a 20-year-old biochemistry major at Winona State University, died of alcohol poisoning on Dec. 14, one day after she had finished her last exam of the semester. According to police reports, she had three beers during the day, then played a drinking game in the evening, and downed some vodka, too.
Foellmi’s death was tragic, but typical in many ways.
An Associated Press analysis of federal records found that 157 college-age people, 18 to 23, drank themselves to death from 1999 through 2005, the most recent year for which figures are available. The number of alcohol-poisoning deaths per year nearly doubled over that span, from 18 in 1999 to a peak of 35 in 2005, though the total went up and down from year to year and dipped as low as 14 in 2001.
Over the seven-year span, 83 of the college-age victims were, like Foellmi, under the drinking age of 21.
A separate AP analysis of hundreds of news articles about alcohol-poisoning deaths in the past decade found that victims drank themselves well past the point of oblivion – with an average blood-alcohol level of 0.40 percent, or five times the legal limit for driving. In nearly every case, friends knew the victim was drunk and put him or her to bed to “sleep it off.”
One practice – drinking 21 shots on a 21st birthday – has proven especially lethal. Of the college-age deaths that made news, 11 people, including eight college students, died while celebrating their 21st.