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Health Effects Of Alcohol Affect Ordinary Kiwis

Health Effects Of Alcohol Affect Ordinary New Zealanders


15 MAY 2009

New Zealand has a pretty heavy binge drinking culture where too many people drink too many drinks in a session in a way that exposes many of them to hazards, Law Commission President Sir Geoffrey Palmer said today.

The Law Commission is currently undertaking a root and branch review of The Sale of Liquor Act. Sir Geoffrey told the Alcohol Advisory Council’s (ALAC) Working Together Conference in Wellington there were two central issues that had influenced his thinking so far.

``The first is the heavy burden placed on the Police as a result of alcohol. It is contributing significantly to a serious law and order problem. Secondly, the health effects of alcohol have been greatly researched in recent years and the news is not good.’’

With law and order issues it was easy for people to say ‘It’s someone else’s problem’ because not everyone who consumed alcohol got involved in domestic violence, fights, drink driving or taken into police custody due to serious intoxication, he said.

``In contrast, the health and injury issues are more pervasive and do affect a large number of ordinary New Zealanders.’’

Sir Geoffrey said the recent Australian guidelines for low risk drinking outlined how a person’s chance of suffering an alcohol-related injury or disease increased with alcohol consumption over a lifetime. Many people who were not contributing to public disorder in town centres after weekend binges were at increased risk of a range of harms to their health.

Liver disease, cardiovascular disease and cancers were prime examples. Globally, around half of all deaths that were attributable to alcohol were from these non-communicable diseases. Women’s drinking has increased since 1990 and health research indicated that it would be one of the drivers of the increase in breast cancer incidence that was expected over the coming years.

Men still bore the brunt of alcohol-related disease and injury. In a recent report BERL estimated that there would be an estimated 14,000 more New Zealanders alive today if it weren’t for alcohol-attributable deaths in just the 2005/06 year: 10,000 of those were men, many of whom died young as a result of car accidents, suicide, and other injuries.

Sir Geoffrey said alcohol placed a significant burden on government health expenditure across a range of different services and specialties.

There were some disturbing statistics about the proportion of injured patients presenting to emergency departments where alcohol had been involved. But the impact of alcohol on emergency departments was poorly recognised because, as in other countries such as the US and Australia, alcohol involvement is significantly under-reported in patient records and hospital data.

He suggested a need to increase the identification of alcohol involvement in emergency department presentations and also the delivery of brief interventions which were very effective for those who received them and were under-utilised in New Zealand.

Sir Geoffrey said the Law Commission needed to make recommendations about the legal framework for the sale and supply of alcohol.

``These need to be based firmly on the evidence about how alcohol consumption contributes to alcohol related harm. What the Commission takes from much of this health research is that the more New Zealanders drink, the more New Zealanders will suffer the burden of chronic diseases and injury.

``Likewise, any changes that will reduce the amount that we all drink will reduce that burden. As a country that faces serious challenges in meeting the health needs of its population, we need to think very seriously about supporting the sorts of policies that will make some difference in reducing alcohol consumption if we are serious about improving the nation’s health.’’


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