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Doctors call for Lollapalooza crackdown on teen drinking, citing spike in ER visits

Underage drinking at last year’s Lollapalooza sent more than 100 teenagers to Chicago hospitals with alcohol-related emergencies, a study has found.

Now, pediatricians at Lurie Children’s Hospital are calling on parents, City Hall and organizers of the 2015 edition of the music festival that started Friday at Grant Park and runs through Sunday to crack down on teen drinking.

No other weekend in 2014 saw more alcohol-related emergency room visits from young teens than Aug. 1-3, the days of Lollapalooza, Lurie researchers found.

In all, 102 teens went to Chicago emergency rooms with alcohol-related illnesses during the three-day music festival last year, according to the study, which looked at ER data from all but two of the city’s hospitals.

The Spring Awakening electronic music festival in June was a distant second, with 45 teens going to hospitals with alcohol poisoning and other drinking-related emergencies.

At Lurie, “There was an enormous increase in teenagers that came to our emergency room, and . . . the increase in teenagers was entirely accounted for by teenagers that were drunk,” said Dr. Bob Tanz, a pediatrician who led the study. “The average intoxicated Lollapalooza teen was a 14-year-old girl from the suburbs. That’s pretty startling by itself.”

Every one of the teens who came to Lurie’s emergency room with alcohol-related illness during Lollapalooza weekend last year had blood-alcohol levels above the .08 percent that’s the level at which drivers are presumed to be driving drunk. And a few approached near-fatal levels, Tanz said.

But the problem goes beyond that, he said.

“The kids that are so drunk they are ending up in a hospital are just the tip of an iceberg,” Tanz said.

He said more needs to be done to keep alcohol out of the hands of teens.

“There’s a lot of drinking going on — anybody who thinks that’s not true is definitely dreaming,” Tanz said. “Whatever they’re doing is not as effective as it ought to be.”

A spokeswoman for the city’s Office of Emergency Management and Communications said Friday, “The Chicago Police Department will be on site to assist event security in their efforts to ensure underage kids are not entering the event under the influence or drinking while at the festival.”

To guard against reports that some people have buried alcohol at the park to be retrieved by themselves or others later on, she said, “Public-safety partners perform a daily security sweep of the festival grounds.”

Efforts to reach C3 Presents, Lollapalooza’s organizers, were unsuccessful.

Tanz said parents need to do more, too.

“One of the best things they can do is to talk to them in advance of going to Lollapalooza, to make it absolutely clear what the parents’ expectation is and to have regular check-ins by phone,” he said.

In 2013, the most recent data available, 22 people under the age of 25 died of alcoholic liver disease in Illinois, the result of long-term and repeated binge drinking.

“Tolerating alcohol abuse in teenagers is an unfortunate setup for long-term problems,” Tanz said.