Belfast Telegraph

70% of alcohol consumed by 20% of Northern Ireland drinkers - call for minimum pricing on booze

By Michael Sheils McNamee

Northern Ireland's most senior doctor has called for the introduction of minimum pricing on alcohol.

Chief Medical Officer for Northern Ireland Dr Michael McBride was speaking on Monday morning at an event for the Big Lottery Fund's Impact of Alcohol programme.

"At the population level, the evidence shows that one of the most effective ways to tackle the issue is through price," Dr McBride said.

Dr McBride said in his speech in Northern Ireland 70% of the alcohol is consumed by 20% of the drinkers.

"That’s an awful lot of people who could come to harm because of their drinking – and as I have already said, these numbers will be much greater if we think about the families and children also affected," Dr McBride said.

He noted alcohol misuse costs Northern Ireland up to £900 million each year, with £250 million being borne by Health and Social Care Trusts.

"Given the current pressure on budgets and on the health service, just think what we could do with that resource," he said.

Around 73% of Northern Irish adults drink alcohol, with around 170,000 adults drinking at hazardous levels, and a further 47,000 drinking at harmful levels.

In his speech, Dr McBride also noted:

  • There are 12,000 alcohol-related admissions to hospital each year
  • There has been a 26% increase in the number of alcohol-related deaths over the past decade
  • Alcohol kills three times as many people as drugs each year.

The Impact of Alcohol fund is made available to projects across the province which reduce "the harm to individuals, families and communities directly affected by alcohol misuse".

Impact of Alcohol programmes have given support to more than 142,000 individuals.

Monday's event was organised by the Northern Ireland Alcohol and Drug Alliance (NIADA), a coalition of community and voluntary groups working in the sector. It is planning to publish a set of recommendations on alcohol misuse in Northern Ireland in the coming weeks.

Minimum pricing was introduced in Scotland last week after the UK Supreme Court ruled the 50p-per-unit price level was a proportionate measure to tackle alcohol abuse.

This made Scotland the first region of the UK to introduce the minimum pricing.

Monday's conference heard from Alison Douglas, chief executive of Alcohol Focus Scotland, a charity focused on preventing and reducing alcohol-related harm.

In her address, she told the meeting people living in poor areas of Scotland were six times more likely to die from alcohol-related disease than their counterparts in richer areas.

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