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Alcohol still impacting ED despite legislation

Alcohol still impacting ED despite legislation aimed at curbing harm

Numbers of alcohol-impaired and injured people coming to Christchurch’s emergency department (ED) remained the same between 2013 and 2107 despite legislation aimed at reducing harm, new research shows.

The University of Otago, Christchurch study, funded by the Health Promotion Agency, was done to measure changes in alcohol-related emergency attendances after the introduction of the Sale and Supply of Alcohol Act in 2012. Researchers measured alcohol-related attendances to the Christchurch ED in 2013, and then in 2017. This latest research, published in today’s New Zealand Medical Journal, shows a lack of significant change or reduction in harm over the four-year period.

Researchers found the majority of people coming to ED intoxicated or with injuries sustained due to intoxication bought alcohol from a liquor store or supermarket, with less than a third purchasing from on licenced premises like an hotel, restaurant, bar or tavern. The majority consumed their last drink at a private location before being admitted to the ED.

The research was done by medical students Kate Ford and Oliver Coleman, who were supervised by senior researchers and ED clinicians, including Dr James Foulds and Professor Michael Ardagh. In both 2013 and 2017, medical students interviewed people coming into ED over 42 separate 8-hour shifts, at different times of the day and night. They attempted to survey all patients and reviewed the records of those who agreed.

Dr Foulds says the purpose of the study was to understand the burden of alcohol on the ED and to measure any changes following the 2012 legislation change. He says there was little change in the number of people presenting to emergency department with alcohol-related issues between the two study periods, or the demographics of people admitted. The main change was a significant increase in people buying their alcohol from a liquor store (41.7% of people in 2013 and 56.1% in 2017).

The researchers found:

· Alcohol-impaired and injured patients ranged from 14 to 87 years in age.

· About one in 14 ED attendances over the entire survey period were there immediately after alcohol consumption or as a short-term effect of drinking. This rate did not change over the two survey periods.

· The number of drinks consumed, rates of pre-drinking and place of last drink did not change between surveys.

· The proportion of patients who purchased alcohol exclusively from an off-licence increased from 67.5% in 2013 to 79.1% in 2017.

· In 2017, about one quarter of patients in the study had consumed more than 15 standard drinks before admission to ED. Eighteen per cent of them had consumed more than 20 drinks.

Dr Foulds says the study suggests policies designed to reduce alcohol-related harm should target all sources of alcohol, particularly off-licences. This could be achieved via Local Alcohol Policies (or LAPs).


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