Cheap booze ban ‘ur­gent’ as deaths rise across coun­try

South Wales Echo - - NEWS -

A BAN on cheap booze is “ur­gently needed” in Wales af­ter new fig­ures re­vealed a sharp rise in al­co­hol-re­lated deaths in Wales, it is claimed.

Ac­cord­ing to a new Welsh Gov­ern­ment re­port, 504 peo­ple died from al­co­hol abuse in Wales in 2016 – an in­crease of 8.9% on the pre­vi­ous 12 months.

The re­port shows nearly half of peo­ple as­sessed with a sub­stance mis­use prob­lem in Wales were suf­fer­ing from prob­lem­atic al­co­hol use.

In 2016, one in five adults re­ported drink­ing more than the UK Chief Med­i­cal Of­fi­cers’ rec­om­mended 14 units a week limit for al­co­hol con­sump­tion.

Health Sec­re­tary Vaughan Gething said the new fig­ures show there is an ur­gent need to ad­dress the af­ford­abil­ity of al­co­hol as part of wider ef­forts to tackle al­co­hol-re­lated harm.

The Welsh Gov­ern­ment re­cently un­veiled a new Bill to in­tro­duce a min­i­mum price for the sale of al­co­hol, as part of ef­forts to tackle the avail­abil­ity of strong, cheap al­co­hol.

Mr Gething said: “Sub­stance mis­use is a ma­jor health is­sue that af­fects the well­be­ing of in­di­vid­u­als, fam­i­lies and com­mu­ni­ties across the length and breadth of Wales. The Welsh Gov­ern­ment in­vests al­most £50m a year in tack­ling the harms as­so­ci­ated within sub­stance mis­use. But while we in­vest and work hard in re­duc­ing harm, we need to take ad­di­tional ac­tion to pre­vent that harm hap­pen­ing in the first place.

“Pre­vent­ing fu­ture sub­stance mis­use is as im­por­tant as treat­ing the es­tab­lished prob­lem. We know that the harm as­so­ci­ated with al­co­hol mis­use in par­tic­u­lar is a press­ing con­cern and that’s why there is now an ur­gent need to tackle the af­ford­abil­ity of cheap, strong al­co­hol, through in­tro­duc­ing a min­i­mum unit price for the sale of al­co­hol.”

The re­port also noted an in­crease in drug use and drug-re­lated deaths. In 2016, there were 271 drug poi­son­ing deaths – in­volv­ing both le­gal and il­le­gal drugs – in Wales. Of these, 192 were drug mis­use deaths in­volv­ing il­le­gal drugs.

Es­ti­mates of prob­lem­atic use of opi­oids, co­caine and crack, am­phet­a­mine and new psy­choac­tive sub­stances in­di­cate that there are around 49,370 in­di­vid­u­als in Wales aged 15-64 years old who are us­ing these types of drugs, in­clud­ing those in con­tact with health and crim­i­nal jus­tice ser­vices.

The Welsh Gov­ern­ment says it is step­ping up ef­forts to tackle avoid­able drug-re­lated deaths by ini­ti­at­ing new aware­ness cam­paigns and by work­ing closely with lo­cal harm re­duc­tion groups to shape fur­ther ac­tion to re­duce drug deaths in Wales.

Along­side a range of other in­ter­ven­tions, the Welsh Gov­ern­ment is con­tin­u­ing to work with part­ners on de­vel­op­ing the Take Home Nalox­one pro­gramme – a drug which tem­po­rar­ily re­verses the ef­fects of opi­ate over­dose.

Since 2009, more than 15,000 kits have been dis­trib­uted through­out Wales with 1,654 re­ported uses.

The 2017 an­nual re­port for the Welsh Gov­ern­ment’s 10-year sub­stance mis­use strat­egy, called Work­ing To­gether to Re­duce Harm, shows that while there has been an in­crease in both al­co­hol-re­lated and drug-re­lated deaths, good progress has been made on pro­vid­ing quicker treat­ment.

An in­creas­ing num­ber of peo­ple re­ferred for treat­ment are re­ceiv­ing sup­port within the 20-day wait­ing time tar­get. Treat­ment out­comes are also im­prov­ing, with 77% of peo­ple re­ported a re­duc­tion in their sub­stance mis­uses fol­low­ing treat­ment in 2016-17, com­pared to 69.2% in 2012-13.

Mr Gething added: “Our aim is to en­sure that peo­ple in Wales are aware of the dan­gers and the im­pact of sub­stance mis­use to en­able them to make in­formed choices and to know where they can seek out help and sup­port – be­cause each death caused by al­co­hol or drug mis­use is one that can be and should be avoided.”

But not all Welsh politi­cians are con­vinced that in­tro­duc­ing a min­i­mum unit price for al­co­hol will help.

Ukip’s Car­o­line Jones said: “This is the wrong ap­proach and I can­not sup­port this leg­is­la­tion. Mak­ing al­co­hol more ex­pen­sive will not stop peo­ple drink­ing to ex­cess and is un­fair to re­spon­si­ble drinkers, par­tic­u­larly those on low in­comes. There is grow­ing ev­i­dence that the largest group of binge drinkers are mid­dle-aged high earn­ers.

“Ac­cord­ing to the Welsh Health Sur­vey 47% of the least de­prived in Wales drink more than the rec­om­mended amount and 28% of the least de­prived are so-called binge drinkers.

“Ev­i­dence on pur­chas­ing be­hav­iour pre­sented to the Scot­tish Par­lia­ment’s Health and Sport Com­mit­tee showed that ‘harm­ful drinkers in the high­est in­come quin­tile are pre­dicted to be buy­ing 80 units a week of cheap al­co­hol’

“In­creas­ing prices will do lit­tle to de­ter these peo­ple.”

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