Doctors appalled by abuse of alcohol call for minimum pricing
Doctors have demanded action over the "alarmingly high" level of alcohol consumption across Northern Ireland.
Nearly eight out of 10 adults exceed their daily recommended limit at least once a week, according to research.
Dr Paul Darragh, chair of the British Medical Association Northern Ireland's Public Health Forum, said: "We can see that alcohol consumption remains alarmingly high in Northern Ireland and is a major contributor to long-term health-related problems and premature deaths.
"It is estimated that alcohol misuse in Northern Ireland costs around £900m a year in health, policing and justice spending."
The latest figures show that:
l Some 70% of adults across the region drink alcohol;
l Around 78% of adults exceed the recommended daily alcohol limits at least once a week;
l Approximately 31% indulge in binge drinking.
Dr Darragh said the introduction of minimum unit pricing could help to address the issue.
"The affordability of alcohol has increased significantly over the past 25 years, and the BMA believes that a minimum price per unit of alcohol should be set at no less than 50 pence per unit," he added.
"This minimum price should also be kept under review to ensure that alcohol does not become more affordable over time.
"A unit-based pricing system impacts most of the cost of the strongest alcoholic drinks - those which contain the most alcohol by volume.
"There needs to be a fundamental shift in consumption patterns to tackle alcohol-related harm, and an ever-increasing body of evidence demonstrates that minimum unit pricing will make a significant contribution toward achieving that goal."
Minimum unit pricing prevents particularly strong alcoholic drinks from being sold cheaply and targets the pockets of the heaviest drinkers.
Dr George O'Neill, the chairman of Addiction NI, said that the abuse of alcohol was one of the key challenges facing the health service.
However, he was sceptical that minimum unit pricing would have that much of an effect.
"If you put the price up, who is going to profit? The wholesalers," he said.
The total amount spent on combating alcohol abuse is the equivalent of £500 for every man, woman and child here, it has been previously claimed.
Dr O'Neill said: "Thousands of children live in homes where there's alcohol, and the PSNI receive a blue-light domestic call every 18 minutes. A lot of these are alcohol-related."
Colin Neill, from Hospitality Ulster, supported calls to introduce minimum pricing on alcohol, 80% of which he said was consumed at home.
"Alcohol is sold and licensed because it's a drug, and we have to respect that because we have turned it into a commodity," Mr Neill explained.