United bid to tackle alcohol abuse
Alcohol claims the lives of more than 1,300 people each year across the island of Ireland, health chiefs holding a cross-border conference on the problem have revealed.
While the figures relate to deaths caused directly by drink, officials said alcohol has a much wider impact and costs governments in both parts of Ireland billions every year.
Health ministers Edwin Poots and James Reilly jointly opened the first north-south conference on the issue, with policymakers pledging to work together to tackle the problem.
The Armagh meeting heard that 2,000 acute hospital beds are occupied every night in the Republic due to alcohol-related illness while it costs the south's healthcare system 1.2 billion euro (£1 billion) each year.
Delegates were also told that problem drinking costs Northern Ireland up to £900 million, or 1.1 billion euro, every year, with almost £250 million (298 million euro) borne by the region's health sector.
In Northern Ireland last year, 284 people died directly as a result of alcohol misuse, an increase of around 40% on the loss of life recorded in 2001. The most recent figures for the Republic showed that 88 people die each month because of alcohol.
The Republic's Health Minister Dr Reilly said: "The areas we would like progress on a North-South basis are measures to reduce the availability of cheap alcohol and treatment and rehabilitation of those affected by alcohol misuse.
"Alcohol use and misuse is an area where both jurisdictions can achieve a lot together - especially in dealing with the challenges that alcohol presents for young adults."
Northern Ireland Health Minister Mr Poots launched a new five-year strategy to prevent and address the harm related to alcohol and drug misuse north of the border, and he stressed its impact on society.
He said: "There is no doubt that alcohol misuse is one of the main threats to public health in Northern Ireland. If we do not take significant and robust action, the costs to Northern Ireland, and the health and social care system in particular, will continue to grow. Alcohol remains our favourite drug, and we face similar problems on both sides of the border."