Minimum pricing would help tackle alcohol abuse issue in Northern Ireland, says chief medical officer
Alcohol abuse in Northern Ireland is costing up to £900m every year, the region's top doctor has warned.
The startling claim from chief medical officer Dr Michael McBride came as he called for the introduction of minimum pricing on booze.
He said more than 200,000 people are drinking at either hazardous or harmful levels.
Dr McBride was speaking at an event for the Big Lottery Fund's Impact of Alcohol programme yesterday.
He said: "At the population level, the evidence shows that one of the most effective ways to tackle the issue is through price."
Dr McBride said 70% of alcohol consumed in Northern Ireland is taken by 20% of 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 £900m each year, with £250m 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 added.
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 noted there are 12,000 alcohol-related admissions to hospital each year.
A 26% increase in the number of alcohol-related deaths has been recorded over the past decade, he added.
The Impact of Alcohol fund is made available to projects across Northern Ireland 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.
Yesterday's event was organised by the Northern Ireland Alcohol and Drug Alliance (NIADA), a coalition of community and voluntary groups working in the sector.
Minimum pricing was introduced in Scotland last week.