Alcohol crackdown: Waitemata DHB joins the fight against ‘addictive psychotropic drug’

Hiking the price of booze and the legal purchase age is crucial to combating the growing burden of alcohol-related health conditions.

That’s according to Waitemata District Health Board which has joined other health boards in endorsing a position on alcohol harm.

It’s calling for restrictions on the availability of alcohol, increasing the minimum legal purchase age and price of booze. Health officials are also wanting a reduction of alcohol advertising, promotion and sponsorship, along with drink-driving countermeasures.

Nearly one in six adults aged 15 years and over drink hazardously within Waitemata DHB’s boundary. For Māori its far higher (28 per cent) compared to non-Māori (20 per cent).

“Hazardous and harmful alcohol-use is identified as a major contributor to inequities and is amenable to healthy public policy,” the DHB said in its statement.

The DHB said alcohol is not an ordinary commodity, it was an intoxicant, toxin and addictive psychotropic drug.

“Alcohol has been normalised and largely accepted by society and causes more harm than any other drug in society.”

The stance adds to growing calls by DHBs to address the environment people live in, in order to improve their health.

Canterbury DHB congratulated the Waitemata DHB on Twitter saying: “It’s great to see other health systems recognising how alcohol-harm impacts the health of our communities.”

Waitemata DHB pointed to research showing hazardous alcohol use contributed to large physical and mental ill-health, social and economic burdens in New Zealand and
globally, with impacts extending across sectors.

“In New Zealand, inequitable outcomes are apparent with men, Māori, young people and those living in more socioeconomically deprived areas at higher risk of alcohol-related harm.”

Earlier this year, the Herald reported that hazardous drinking rates jumped over the Covid-19 lockdown last year.

Ministry of Health emergency department attendances data showed in May 2020 there were 200 more visits compared to the year earlier, with roughly 400 more visits in both June and July.

“Twenty per cent of New Zealanders increased their consumption at level 4 lockdown, at level 1 that reduced to about 14 per cent,” Alcohol Healthwatch executive director Dr Nicki Jackson said in January.

According to the ministry, alcohol-related attendances are recorded by DHBs using a system called the “Alcohol Red Flag”.

John Bonning, the Australasian College for Emergency Medicine (ACEM) president, told the Herald in January the total ED visits were roughly more than a million per annum in New Zealand.

But the impact of alcohol on EDs may not be measured as accurately as possible because staff are often busy with other tasks.

“It’s a little difficult to put the onus down on the care provider,” he said.

In November, an ACEM survey suggested binge drinking is a bigger issue in New Zealand than across the ditch, with local EDs busier than in Australia.

At 2am on December 21, 2019, 16 per cent of patients were receiving alcohol-related treatment in New Zealand compared with 13 per cent in Australia.

Jackson said while those under the age of 24 years were

drinking less there was “a phenomenal” increase in drinking among older generations.

However, it’s still young people who find themselves visiting EDs for alcohol-related issues, Bonning said.

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