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Drink 'epidemic' claim as kills one a day for 10 years

By Joanne Fleming

A leading GP has said alcohol abuse in Northern Ireland is at epidemic proportions after the latest Government statistics revealed it had killed almost one person here every day for a decade.

A total of 2,849 people, two-thirds of them men, died from 2002 to 2012, with illnesses such as liver disease contributing to the toll.

There were 270 alcohol-related deaths in 2012, compared with 238 a decade earlier, according to the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency (Nisra) figures.

The news comes after more than 100 young people were treated for the effects of alcohol at a rave in Belfast's Odyssey Arena earlier this month.

The Ambulance Service declared the scene outside the venue a Major Incident.

There have also been a number of deaths across the UK and Ireland due to the 'Neknomination' craze on Facebook, where people are challenged to film outrageous drinking contests and post them online.

This week Health Minister Edwin Poots expressed his concern about the availability of alcohol at "pocket money prices".

He is considering a minimum price on alcohol to protect young people.

Dr George O'Neill, chairman of Addiction NI, said Northern Ireland's alcohol problems were of "epidemic" proportions.

"It is not a surprise," he said of the latest statistics. "The total cost of alcohol abuse is £900m every year for Northern Ireland.

"That is the cost for everything. It is over twice the prescribing budget for GPs. It is an enormous amount of money.

"There is also the problem we have with unemployment and absenteeism and the increasing number of young people presenting with significant liver damage.

"As a GP, this is a big problem."

Dr O'Neill said there were also the hidden problems of domestic violence as a result of alcohol and older people "quietly getting sozzled" at home due to bereavement and social isolation.

"Over the age of 55 the health service does not have provision for people with addictions," he said.

"At Addiction NI we see 2,000 people a year with alcohol-related problems. It is a problem of epidemic proportions."

Dr O'Neill said he was aware of the overall drop in alcohol deaths over the past decade, and believed raising awareness of the problem had been key.

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