Time for a National Summit on alcohol misuse and harms - AMA
The AMA is today calling on the Federal Government to convene a National Summit to discuss and assess the evidence and develop effective national solutions to the epidemic of alcohol misuse and harms afflicting local communities right across the nation.
AMA President, Dr Steve Hambleton, said the AMA wants the Government to bring together representatives of all Australian governments, local councils, community leaders, medical and health experts, police, teachers, industry, parent groups, families of victims, and other stakeholders to develop practical nationally-consistent solutions and policies to tackle the harms of excess alcohol use that affect many Australians.
“We have a major national problem that requires a major national solution,” Dr Hambleton said.
“The NSW Government has this week introduced some very tough and very welcome new laws to address alcohol-related violence on the streets of Sydney, and we now have to look at the broader harmful effects of alcohol misuse in every corner of the country.
“The mood of the Australian community on this issue warrants a broad discussion that can introduce solutions that governments need to act on as soon as possible.
“The harmful consumption of alcohol is a complex problem that cuts across different levels of government and many portfolios.
“The AMA wants a whole-of-government approach from all governments that looks at harm minimisation, the marketing of alcohol and how young people are exposed to this marketing, pricing and taxation, venue licensing and opening hours.
“But any policy and regulation must be informed by everyday community experience – from police, doctors and other health professionals, drug and alcohol services, teachers, and the families who suffer from alcohol addiction, misuse, and the associated violence and illness.
“A National Summit, convened by the Federal Government, would bring together the experience, the expertise, and the passion to bring about much-needed meaningful change to Australia’s alcohol ‘culture’.”
Dr Hambleton said that the extent of alcohol-related harms is placing enormous strain on the frontline health system and emergency services.
“A recent survey from the Australasian College for Emergency Medicine shows that one in seven emergency department visits on a Saturday night are alcohol related, and in some areas the rate is as high as one in three.
“On average, one in four hospitalisations of young people aged 15-24 years occurs because of alcohol.
“Hospital emergency staff are regularly confronted with the acute and chronic complications of alcohol.”
Dr Hambleton said the AMA is very concerned about the effects of alcohol on young people.
“One in five Australians aged 14 years and above drink at a level that puts them at risk of harm from alcohol-related disease or injury over their lifetime.
“One in three 14 to 19 year olds drink alcohol in a way that places them at risk of an alcohol-related injury from a single drinking occasion at least once a month.
“Young Australians are exposed to an unprecedented level of alcohol marketing and promotions, and there is strong evidence that the more young people are exposed to alcohol advertising, the earlier they start drinking, the more they drink, and the more alcohol-related harm they experience.
“The AMA is pushing for a Parliamentary Inquiry into the marketing of alcohol to young people, and we strongly support the Australian Greens’ proposal for a wide-ranging Senate Inquiry into alcohol,” Dr Hambleton said.
Levels of excess alcohol consumption in Australia
- One in five Australians consume alcohol at levels that put them at risk of lifetime harm from injury or disease; two in five Australians consume alcohol at levels that put them at risk of short-term harm at least once a year.
- More than half (52per cent) of Australian drinkers consume alcohol in excess of the Australian Guidelines, with 26 per cent drinking more than the recommended maximum of two standard drinks per day. One in six Australian drinkers consume more than 11 drinks per occasion on a monthly basis.
- One in three 14 to 19 year olds drink alcohol in a way that places them at risk of an alcohol-related injury from a single drinking occasion at least once a month.
- Many young people drink to get drunk; 45 per cent of current drinks aged 16 to 17 years report intending to get drunk on most or every occasion when they drink alcohol.
- Three quarters of Australians believe that Australia has a problem with excess drinking or alcohol abuse.
The health, social and economic costs of alcohol consumption
- The cost of alcohol-related harm in Australia, including harms caused by someone else's drinking, is estimated to be between $15 billion and $36 billion a year. This includes costs to the health system, law enforcement, lost productivity in the workplace, and the pain, suffering and harms to drinkers and those around them. Harms to others include violence, injury, crime and car crashes.
- Every year, alcohol consumption is responsible for over 11,000 hospitalisations among young people aged 15-24 years. Each week, approximately one death and 65 hospitalisations among the under-aged (14-17 years) are attributed to alcohol.
- Alcohol has been causally linked to at least 60 different medical conditions. Longer term health problems associated with risky alcohol use include liver damage, heart damage, and increased risk of some cancers.
- There is growing concern about the impact of alcohol on young peoples’ development. Heavy drinking at a young age can adversely affect brain development and is linked to alcohol-related problems in later life.
- Alcohol is a greater factor than speed, fatigue, weather or road conditions in fatal road crashes in Australia and is responsible for more than a third of road deaths.
- Teenagers who drink alcohol to excess are much more likely to engage in risky sexual behaviour, including having unprotected sex, multiple partners and sex they later regret.
Physical assaults and domestic violence
- One in 20 Australians aged 14 years and over have been physically abused by someone under the influence of alcohol; one in four Australians have been a victim of alcohol-related verbal abuse.
- The association between domestic violence and problematic alcohol use is well established. There is strong evidence that the level of harm associated with domestic violence increases, and results in graver injuries, when alcohol is involved. In addition, an abuser’s frequency of intoxication, binge drinking or problem drinking is more closely associated with severity of domestic violence and possibility for injury of a victim, than drinking per se.
- The density of alcohol outlets correlates with the rate of domestic violence. An analysis of alcohol outlet density found a strong relationship between alcohol availability and domestic violence; packaged liquor outlets that sell alcohol for off-premise consumption were particularly implicated.
- The ABS report that, among women who have experienced an assault from a male perpetrator in the preceding 12 months, nearly half (49 per cent) state that alcohol or drugs are a contributing factor. The NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research found that 41 per cent of all incidents of domestic assault reported to the police between 2001 and 2010 were alcohol related. This percentage varied, however, and was as high as 62 per cent in Far Western NSW.
- Nearly half (44 per cent) of all intimate-partner homicides are alcohol related; the majority (87per cent) of Indigenous intimate-partner homicides were alcohol related.
- In a NSW study, two-thirds of patients presenting at an emergency department with injuries from interpersonal violence reported having consumed alcohol prior to the incident; three-quarters of these patients stated that they had been drinking at licensed premises.
- Conservative estimates suggest that the total annual costs of alcohol-related crime in Australia is at least $1.7b; the annual social cost relating to alcohol-related violence (which excludes costs to the criminal justice system) is $187m; and the costs associated with the loss of life due to alcohol-related violent crime amounts to $124m.
23 January 2014
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Published: 23 Jan 2014