Alcohol dangers highlighted

BY LEIGHTON KEITH
Last updated 05:00 23/10/2009

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Alcohol kills 50 times more people in New Zealand per year than methamphetamine, a leading addiction expert says.

Professor Doug Sellman, chairman in psychiatry and addiction medicine at the University of Otago, addressed a public meeting at the New Plymouth District Council chambers last night on the dangers of alcohol.

Prof Sellman said figures provided by the Ministry of Health showed alcohol was responsible for 1000 deaths a year while methamphetamine killed fewer than 20.

"From that statistic you can say that alcohol is more than 50 times more important as a problem," he said.

"Yet we are not putting 50 times more energy into worrying about it."

The primary purpose of Prof Sellman's visit was to launch Alcohol Action New Plymouth, a regional branch of the national body which wants to change New Zealand's ineffective alcohol laws.

"This group will continue to lobby to make the kind of changes that are necessary to deal with the enormous alcohol related problems that we have got in New Zealand," he said.

The risk of an overdose with alcohol was greater than heroin and Prof Sellman said if it was a new drug coming on the market it would be illegal.

"Alcohol has become totally over-commercialised in New Zealand, encouraging a heavy drinking culture that leads to serious health problems, fractured families and increased violence and crime affecting thousands of people.

"Over a thousand people die every year from an alcohol-related injury or chronic disease and there are over 70,000 physical and sexual assaults perpetrated by people who are alcohol affected."

The reasons were clear.

"The easy availability of alcohol at all hours, low prices and continuous bombardment by very clever advertising and highly strategic sponsorship deals are key drivers of our dangerous drinking culture," he said.

The alcohol industry spent about $200,000 a day marketing its product, targeting young people and women and half of its multi-million dollar profits came from binge-style out of control drinking.

"Alcohol Action NZ believes it's time to recognise this industry is a major driver of our huge drink problem in this country, and to stop simply blaming young people and alcoholics for having problems," Prof Sellman said.

He supported the Law Commission's review of the Sale of Liquor Act and hoped changes could be made before it came into force next year.

Prof Sellman did not want to return to prohibition but would like to see the supply and sale of alcohol sitting in the middle ground between the two extremes.

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- Taranaki Daily News

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