Drunks fill hospital emergency departments

JESSICA TASMAN-JONES
Last updated 05:00 28/05/2012

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More than 3500 people had to be treated at Auckland's emergency departments because of alcohol-related issues during the past financial year and it was a major factor in six deaths.

Intoxication, head and limb injuries and cuts were among the top three diagnoses for the 3600 alcohol-related admissions.

Alcohol was the main factor in six deaths recorded by the city's district health boards, which treated a total of 292,000 people during the period.

Young people aged 15 to 24 were most likely to be admitted to emergency departments, accounting for 40 per cent of alcohol-related admissions.

More than 7500 patients were admitted to Auckland's three district health boards between 2007 and 2012 for alcohol-related chronic disease.

This included mental and behavioural disorders, cirrhosis of the liver and gastritis.

Just over half the admissions for chronic disease were people aged 45 to 64 but 25 children under 14 were among the statistics.

The information was revealed in a report presented to the regional development and operations committee last week.

The Local Alcohol Policy Research Report is an overview of Auckland's alcohol problems and was presented in the lead-up to the government's alcohol reform bill, destined for its third reading in June.

The bill will give communities more control over the concentration, location, and hours of sale for alcohol outlets. It also proposes a "split age" for alcohol purchase - 20 years for off-licenses like supermarkets and 18 years for on-licenses like bars and restaurants.

Aucklanders' frustration over liquor licensing has boiled over in recent years, particularly in South Auckland where protest marches have attracted thousands of people wanting more say in the number and location of outlets.

"Once the bill gets passed the community will be demanding we take the maximum action we can in terms of off-licences and the proliferation of licences," regional development and operations committee chairman Ann Hartley said.

Next week the Otara-Papatoetoe Local Board is taking the Liquor Licensing Authority to court over for granting an off licence in the area despite widespread community opposition.

Within 250m of the store, there were three off-licences and various schools, early childhood centres and churches.

Earlier this year board chairman John McCracken said competition was fierce amongst Papatoetoe liquor outlets and, he claimed, store owners didn't care who they sold to. He said the area had an increasing problem with drunken vagrants.

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According to a 2010 survey, sited in the research report, 67 per cent of Aucklanders believed alcohol or drugs were a problem in their area.

Drunk and disorderly behaviour was also considered a rising problem with 3735 breaches recorded by Auckland police in 2010 compared with 1306 in 2006.

Youth drinking was of particular concern with 12 to 20-year-olds accounting for 75 per cent of all liquor ban breaches in 2010.

Drinking in public was associated with vandalism, litter, negative effects on business, noise, violence and disorder.

It also made other residents feel unsafe in their community, particularly when public drunkenness happened after dark.

The report said a lack of public transport options in the early hours of the morning caused problems with loitering as drunk people waited for transport home.

It noted most public transport options did not operate between 11pm and 6am.

Despite problems outlined in the report, many respondents questioned in its survey said there were positives to drinking alcohol.

Almost half of respondents said alcohol made eating out more fun and 38 per cent said bars, clubs and pubs were a good meeting place.

The hospitality industry is also a significant employer, giving jobs to 27,073 Aucklanders in 2010, and generating $745m for the city's economy.

According to ALAC estimates, 86 per cent of adult New Zealanders drink alcohol.

- Auckland Now

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