Cheap booze ban ‘urgent’ as deaths rise across country
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.”