Alcohol-related visits to ED up sharply

23:10, May 20 2012

The number of patients visiting the Southland Hospital's emergency department for alcohol-related injuries has almost doubled in the past three years.

Figures obtained under the Official Information Act from the Southern District Health Board show 279 people visited ED with alcohol-related injuries between April 1, 2009 and March 31, 2010. This increased to 400 in the 2010-11 year and to 436 in the 2011-12 year.

The revelation follows other unsavoury evidence of alcohol-related issues in the south which have come to light in recent days.

A Southland teen recorded the highest breath alcohol reading in the country last year; the Southern district had the highest apprehension rate for drivers aged under 20; and more than half of 25 Southland hotels and liquor outlets have been caught red-handed selling liquor to under 18s in the past two police stings.

However, Southland Area Commander Inspector Lane Todd said the region's alcohol-related arrests and hospital visits were no worse than anywhere else.

"I think, overall, our region is comparable with other areas," he said.

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Reducing alcohol offences and the harm associated with alcohol would be a big focus for southern police during the next three years, Mr Todd said.

"We have the Prevention First Strategy that recognises alcohol is a driver of crime," he said.

"Alcohol is a significant factor in not only drink driving but family violence and assault."

Controlled policing operations and continued traffic units and highway patrols were all part of trying to reduce alcohol injuries and crime through prevention, Mr Todd said.

A health board spokeswoman said there were a number of issues faced by young people including drug and alcohol addiction.

Some of those issues included peer pressure to drink, conflict with parents, angry impulsive behaviour, low self-esteem, increased gang affiliation and cheap alcohol.

People also indulged in other harmful substances, which led to other addictions, she said.

Patients being treated for alcohol addiction or issues had also increased at Southland Hospital, from 911 in 2009/10 to 1166 this year, the health board figures show.

Nga Kete Matauranga Pounamu Charitable Trust manager Tracey Wright said the number of patients with alcohol issues at its premises had increased in the past year.

The organisation generally carries out about 2800 one-on-one alcohol and drug counselling sessions a year - but the past year it had increased to about 3518 sessions.

They also run two group sessions a week, she said.

"People come from all walks of life ... all sorts of backgrounds and needs."

nicole.mcdougall@stl.co.nz

The Wellingtonian