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'Time to get serious' on alcohol-related injuries

Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media

Alcohol-related injury is a burden on the Hawke’s Bay community and its health services which must be addressed, director of population health Dr Caroline McElnay says.

Speaking ahead of next week’s Local Alcohol Plan Hearing, Dr McElnay said the new Sale and Supply of Alcohol Act (2012), which came into full effect in December, provides an opportunity to improve New Zealand’s drinking culture and reduce the harm caused by excessive drinking.

"Hawke’s Bay District Health Board is working closely with local councils and the police to support the introduction of the new legislation," she said.

Dr McElnay said a study conducted during three separate months between May, 2008 and January, 2011 showed that 35 per cent of life threatening presentations at the Hawke’s Bay Hospital emergency department were alcohol-related.

Out of 1610 injuries over the three months, 23 per cent were alcohol related.

Alcohol was involved in 85 per cent of assaults, and there were disproportionately higher rates of alcohol-related injury presentations among men, 15-19 year olds, Maori and Pacific Islanders, and those in lower socio-economic groups.

Dr McElnay said the cost to the community was difficult to estimate but in one month, alcohol-related injuries led to 106 inpatient bed days.

"We are talking many thousands of dollars," she said. "With hospital care, rehabilitation, lost productivity etc - many hundreds of thousands of dollars."

Alcohol-related injuries cost New Zealanders an estimated $1,592 million per year, according to a 2009 study, Costs of Harmful Alcohol and Other Drug Use.

"A recent survey of New Zealanders showed a growing realisation that we have a drinking problem," Dr McElnay said. "With 82 per cent of people agreeing or strongly agreeing that we have a problem, and significant numbers believing they could harm themselves or others while under the influence it’s time for action.

"The Sale and Supply of Alcohol Act (2012) increases the ability of communities to have a say on local alcohol licensing matters, and allows for local-level decision-making for all licence applications.

"It also requires the consent of a parent or guardian before alcohol is supplied to a minor, and anyone supplying alcohol to under 18 year olds to do so responsibly.

"There is also strengthening of the rules around the types of stores who can sell alcohol, trading hours are capped for licensed premises, and supermarket and grocery store alcohol displays must be confined to a single area.

"The DHB strongly supports all these initiatives because on a regular basis, especially between Thursday and Sunday, and mostly between midnight and 6am, we see the harm caused by some New Zealanders appalling drinking behaviour."

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