Alcohol violence alarms ED doc

JAMES GREENLAND
Last updated 13:00 05/12/2013

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Instances of alcohol-related violence in Nelson have more than doubled in 10 years, says emergency doctor Mark Reeves.

Dr Reeves yesterday shared findings from his 2001-11 statistical analysis of alcohol-related presentations at the Nelson Hospital emergency department.

Eighty per cent of Kiwis who can drink, do drink, he said. One in six of them drinks dangerously.

Dr Reeves said a third of Nelson emergency department presentations were alcohol-related, a figure that rises to 70 per cent over the weekend.One-third of arrests also involved alcohol.

He was speaking at the Nelson Safer Community Council's annual meeting, which included a workshop about the impact of drinking on young people, and how to reduce youth intoxication.

Dr Reeves, who says he is pro-alcohol but anti-problem drinking, started on the front line of Nelson's emergency department in 2000.

"I soon realised something was quite wrong, broken in New Zealand. Especially with binge-drinking amongst young people."

In 13 years, he's seen the rate of alcohol-related violence grow to an "alarming rate for a city this size", particularly among teenaged problem drinkers, usually young men.

And "year after year it's getting worse", he said.

"When I started, every other weekend I'd see some poor guy sitting in ED waiting for transfer to Hutt Hospital because someone has smashed their face. Then it was every weekend. Now it's a regular thing, sometimes there are two each weekend."

"When I was young, we drank to be social. To lower our inhibitions, help us talk to that girl, have fun.

"Today I am convinced that young people drink to be antisocial.

"Perhaps binge-drinking is this generation's punk - an inter-generational ‘screw you' to the older generations."

Dr Reeves told the 50-person audience, of social agency professionals and members of the public, that fights and violence had probably become less common in the Nelson CBD at night, due to stricter drinking bylaws and a stronger police presence.

"But the violence is more extreme," Dr Reeves said, relaying what he heard recently from a veteran bouncer who has been manning the doors in Bridge St.

In the past, people would stop fighting once someone went down, he said.

Now it was becoming commonplace for those same people to "put the boot in", and the emergency department is seeing more serious head and facial injuries as a result.

Nelson Hospital did not distinguish between the victims and aggressors of alcohol-related violent incidents. And, the two were not often mutually exclusive, he said.

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His perception of Nelson's problem-drinking culture was supported by Sergeant Steve Savage, Nelson police's alcohol harm reduction officer, who said he's seen things get "a whole lot worse" during his 14 years on the front line.

"There might be less assaults out there but the ones that we do get are often near fatals.

"Alcohol is the biggest problem for police, and when minors get drunk it gets even worse."

Both Dr Reeves and Mr Savage agreed it was up to older people to act as role models for the younger generations. "Kids are going to drink. We are trying to get them to drink in a responsible manner," Mr Savage said.

"I don't know if [the new alcohol legislation] is going to work.

"I'd like to see responsibility come back to parents," he said.

"I think that's the key. Parents need to step up and take ownership."

Dr Reeves said: "Nelson is a small town in a small country, with a big alcohol problem. "I encourage you all to speak up and to listen, and to do what you can to fix this problem," he told those in the audience.

"Look at yourselves, honestly. Drink responsibly. Be the change you want to see." Mr Savage said law changes effective from this month controlling the supply of alcohol to under-18-year-olds would not be "a silver bullet".

- The Nelson Mail

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