Girls are joining the binge-drinking culture and ending up in hospital.
A programme to track how booze-related injuries clog health resources has found an increase in the number of youths so drunk they need hospital emergency treatment and that girls are the fastest-growing group among young problem drinkers.
The Ministry of Health programme begins in Christchurch this year after a successful pilot in Wellington, which provided a better picture of the impact of the country's drinking culture.
The new programme comes as Auckland City Hospital says it's concerned by a 30% increase in the past five years in the number of young people going to its emergency department because of drink-related problems.
Chief medical officer Dr Margaret Wilsher says although the numbers fluctuate each year the trend shows an overall increase in the number of young people seeking treatment.
In 2006 there were 127 alcohol-related presentations in the 20-24 age group and last year that number had climbed to 201.
"The overall trend is that alcohol-related presentations are greater in young adults than in older or middle-aged adults."
Wilsher says access to cheap alcohol is helping drive the increase.
The highly-publicised binge-drinking death of Auckland high school student James Webster last year appears to have also influenced the spike in young people turning up at emergency departments.
"There is a greater awareness of having the need to have intoxicated young adults under some form of surveillance," says Wilsher.
"There's a sense that we're getting a few more in each weekend simply because people recognise that they should be in an emergency department."
Christchurch Hospital emergency doctor Scott Pearson says he's keenly awaiting the programme.
"I've been frustrated at getting the type of data we want to see and I've been concerned about the increase in the number of youth alcohol-related injuries, which has happened since the drinking age was decreased to 18. We are now seeing younger people affected by alcohol and having alcohol-related injuries in the emergency department more than ever before.
"We do see 13, 14 and 15-year-olds when 10 years ago that was rare. It may be more complex than just the age of purchase coming down, there are other social issues."
Dr Pearson says boozed young people were a small percentage of patients in emergency rooms. "But they do take a disproportionate amount of time, one or two heavily intoxicated people who arrive and need supervision can have a major effect on the whole place."
At Wellington, emergency medicine specialist Dr Paul Quigley says the main trend is the increase in female presentations. "Female drinking to excess has gone up a long way and that's created quite a concern.
"You've got all the vulnerability issues, like unplanned sex, and therefore unplanned pregnancies and STD rates are climbing around the country.
"Young women are very vulnerable when they're intoxicated – and men are bastards."
Dr Quigley says 40% of those who turn up drunk are under 20.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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