TMA Testimony by Maria Monge, MD
House Licensing and Administrative Procedures Committee
House Bill 1610 by Rep. Trent Ashby
Testimony submitted on behalf of:
- Dell Children’s Medical Center
- Ascension Texas
- Texas Pediatric Society
- Texas Medical Association
April 16, 2019
Good Morning Chair King and Committee Members,
My name is Dr. Maria Monge, and I am the Director of Adolescent Medicine at Dell Children’s Medical Center. I am here today on behalf of Dell Children’s Medical Center of Central Texas, Ascension Texas, the Texas Pediatric Society, and the Texas Medical Association to testify in support of House Bill 1610 by Representative Ashby.
As an adolescent medicine, fellowship-trained physician, I strongly support banning the manufacture, import, sale, serve, or possession of powdered alcohol. This will prevent access to an easily concealed, misused, and overconsumed product that poses a significant health threat to children and adolescents.
Alcohol Use in Adolescents
Alcohol use in adolescents is already a significant problem in Texas. In our state, the average age of first alcoholic drink, defined as more than 1 or 2 sips, is 13 years of age (Texas School Survey 2014). More than one in 10 Texas high school students report binge drinking in the past 30 days while almost one in 20 report extreme binge drinking, defined as more than 10 drinks in a row, in the past 30 days (Youth Risk Behavior Survey 2018). Among college students in Texas, three out of four report drinking alcohol in the past year (Texas School Survey 2014). The consequences of adolescent alcohol consumption are also well documented, as within the past year, there have been cases of tragic traffic fatalities in Texas caused by teen drivers under the influence of alcohol, specifically highly concentrated, fortified alcohol products. Powdered alcohol presents a frightening opportunity for adolescents to access, consume, and very easily overconsume alcohol in potentially new and deadly ways.
Adolescent Brain Development
In Texas, alcohol is the most common substance abused by teenagers (Texas School Survey 2014), and because the development of the brain occurs in stages, adolescents are uniquely susceptible to the risks of substance use. Adolescence is a critical time for brain development as neurologic connections and patterns that are established in the teenage years form the basis of lifelong brain functioning. In early adolescence, the limbic system, better known as the “reward center” of the brain, matures rapidly. This is the part of the brain that leads to significant risk-taking behavior in an effort to fulfill the reward center. Substances such as alcohol are well-known to trigger immediate signaling in the reward center.
In more mature brains, this need for immediate reward is kept “in check” by the prefrontal cortex, a different part of the brain that develops much more slowly. The prefrontal cortex is the part of the brain responsible for interacting with the reward center and reducing the risk-taking behavior. The pre-frontal cortex does not fully mature until the mid-20s.
Adolescent physiologic brain development occurs in the context of complex social development where teens are relying less on their parents and more on their friends and social influences to shape their decision making. The confluence of the physiologic and social development put adolescents at significant risk for the adverse effects of alcohol. Decision making capabilities are significantly different in an adolescent brain than in an adult brain. Furthermore, alcohol impacts adolescent brains in different ways than adult brains as teenagers are less inhibited and less sedated by alcohol. As powdered alcohol is ethyl alcohol encapsulated in a powder, it is a powerful substance that poses significant, known negative effects on the developing brain.
Powdered alcohol poses significant risks to the future generations of Texans if allowed to make its way to market as it makes alcohol more easily accessible, concealed, consumed, misused, and overconsumed. Given the well-known risks of adolescent alcohol consumption, and the inability of regulation to keep alcohol from being consumed by teenagers, banning the production and sale of powdered alcohol is the best way to keep adolescents safe from this potential threat to their lives and the lives of others.
Thank you for the opportunity to provide testimony in support of HB 1610 to help protect our teenagers while their brains are learning, maturing, and growing.
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