$5.4 million!

According to DHB’s Dr Caroline McElnay, that’s the estimated annual cost of treating alcohol-related hospital admissions in Hawke’s Bay. And ACC claims for alcohol-related injuries in HB account for another estimated $19 million. Of course, you and I pay those bills through our taxes.

At a forum sponsored by Alcohol Action Hawke’s Bay, Dr McElnay presented a variety of — dare I say it — sobering facts about the health impact of excessive alcohol consumption, both nation-wide and here in the Bay.

A bit over 6% of all HBDHB hospital admissions (more than 1,300) are alcohol-related. Alcohol fuels spikes in Emergency Department presentations each Friday, Saturday and Sunday. 18-25% of injuries treated in our hospital’s ED are alcohol-related … half of these are individuals under the age of 25. And 41% of HB’s fatal car crashes involve alcohol (the NZ average is 30%).

In a similar vein, Napier Councillor Maxine Boag noted Police statistics 30% of all criminal offences in HB involve alcohol.

Today, the Law Commission issues its final report and recommendations to curb excessive alcohol consumption. MP Chris Tremain, also speaking at last night’s forum, noted that the report would contain 141 recommendations, and that Justice Minister Simon Power has promised the Government response within one month.

Alcohol is big business in New Zealand, employing 70,000 people directly. NZ consumers spend $4-5 billion a year on alcohol beverages. And its marketing spend (about $200,000 a day) carries the industry’s influence much farther, with 50% of that money spent on sponsorships … the fuel of sport in New Zealand.

As the year progresses, comprehensive legislation will be introduced. Further public input will be invited when the legislation is before a Select Committee.

Meantime, if you want to educate yourself on the issue, try the websites of Alcohol Action or the Alcohol Advisory Council of NZ (ALAC).

The goal here is not to punish responsible drinking. But as MP Tremain said, the social costs of alcohol abuse are undeniable and must be addressed.

Tom Belford

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5 Comments

  1. Tom, when they say 'estimated,' it means they don't have the figures. What were the estimates based on?

    Having previously requested statistics from the DHB I know their record keeping in that respect is not good, that specific data cannot be electronically collated but has to be done so manually – if it has been recorded in the first instance, let alone accurately.

    It would be interesting to know from the DHB their estimates of the costs of sports injuries, the prevalence of these would largely fall on the same days. Similarly data from ACC. Comparative estimates, or intuitive beliefs, may indicate a need to, 'in all conscience,' restrict certain sporting activities as a greater priority.

    'The goal here is not to punish responsible drinking.'

    The goal here is to 'deal' to an entire industry on the basis of the excess of a reducing minority (the rate of consumption has decreased) and probably, and perhaps moreso, to self-righteously boost the tax take at the same time.

    Estimates or intuition in this day and age are pretty primitive tools on which to base policies. They are more useful for arousing an emotive groundswell to support an agenda … which really, is what this is about.

  2. On the other hand,"estimated" could mean that the figures are actually much higher, because many people who are dependent on alcohol have normalised their behaviour to such an extent that they don't think it's worth mentioning that they have a "couple of wines with dinner -doesn't everyone?"

    Most people underestimate their own alcohol intake, and most who are dependent (though technically not alcoholics) fail to realise its impact on their lives and those of their families.

    Out of interest, Morton, if someone injures themselves playing sport on Saturday morning with a fair load of alcohol still on board from the night before, would you call it a sporting injury or an alcohol-related injury? Not always as clear cut as we might think.

    Perhaps the DHB might not have to "estimate" costs if drinkers accurately "estimated" their alcohol intake.

  3. Kerryn, an estimate is a 'rough idea.' Presumably (hopefully) somewhere around actual data, but we have no way of knowing do we? Because it is highly improbable such data even exists in any collated form. I would be pleased to see the actual data proving me wrong … but I know I wont, because plausible intuition has served the local DHB so well for so long.

    Cranford, whilst you and Libby were there, even though you both annually rubbed shoulders with the inebriated and touted for monies, I had the utmost respect for, and I still do.

    I was speaking of the 'no data' thing, not the difficulties in differentiating, they are surmountable … no data isn't.

    And lastly, I agree, but you cannot legislate individual responsibility … and again, consumption has decreased,the measure of a standard drink was changed in 2004 immediately making everyone 'apparently' consume 33% more than previously … as I said, ' an emotive groundswell to support an agenda … which really, is what this is about.'

  4. And Kerryn, having worked at the hospice, you know of the number of orchardist famillies that you have had contact with … you know of the extent of denial expressed by them that they have poisoned themselves and their surroundings (i.e. neighbours) and with terminal consequences, and you know that orchard areas destined for residential areas require soil reconstitution because they are toxic … and you know of the changes in orchard practices, of the effects of lime sulfur and its non confineable aerosols (H2S, SO2, & H2SO4), and that respiratory irritants cause respiratory irritation, and tachycardia, and fibrillation and the PM2.5s are responsible for the breast cancers and prostrate cancers and lung cancers, and that this will immediately impact on c. 15% of the population … and yet you focus on alcohol.

    But then perhaps I am wrong … perhaps there is no reason at all why some schools should have recurrent bouts of whooping cough or migraines .. or why 25-30% absences should be reported in the last weeks of July and the first few weeks of August, and that A & E admissions peak at the same time… although funny how this occurs close to the orchard belt.

    Your cause Kerryn, surprises me.

  5. The changes proposed by the law commission are sensible and will not change things much for the vast majority and are known, through research, to decrease the harm from excessive drinking. Overall, most people seem very concerned that their favourite drop will go up in price, and not so much about the other measures. It is interesting the intensity of their feeling about this. I wonder if it would be the same around an everyday commodity like jam (something that is nice to have but not essential). Does this indicate the extent of dependence in members of the community? – ie alcohol is an essential, not an optional extra any more.

    With regard to spraying practices. Those who are knowledgeable about this surely have a moral responsibilty to campaign for change.

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