Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland chief medical officer backs minimum alcohol pricing

The chief medical officer has supported the minimum pricing of alcohol in Northern Ireland.

Supreme Court justices have already given their backing to the controversial measure in Scotland.

Dr Michael McBride said it was a welcome outcome and warned almost three quarters of alcohol sold was consumed by the fifth of drinkers who took the most.

"While I have always been supportive of minimum unit pricing, it will obviously be for incoming Ministers and the Executive to agree a way forward in Northern Ireland.

"But the ruling helpfully sets a precedent about the discretion and ability of governments to intervene in trade and competition law, based on appropriate evidence, to address factors that have a real impact on public health."

The evidence shows that one of the most effective ways to tackle problem drinking is through price, Dr McBride added.

Seven justices at the UK's highest court dismissed a legal challenge that had been brought against minimum unit pricing by the Scotch Whisky Association (SWA).

Dr McBride said 170,000 adults in Northern Ireland drink at hazardous levels and a further 47,000 adults drink at harmful levels.

"In fact local research estimated that the 20% of the population who drink the most consume almost 70% of all the alcohol purchased.

"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."

He said 2,577 individuals were in treatment for alcohol misuse on March 1 this year - and many more were in treatment for both alcohol and drug misuse.

"But there are even more who haven't yet sought treatment and this is reflected in the over 12,000 admissions to hospital each year with an alcohol-related diagnosis.

"And in the fact that one-in-six people who attend emergency departments have alcohol-related injuries or issues and at peak times this can increase to eight-in-10."

He said of greatest concern was the 310 people who died directly as a result of alcohol misuse in 2015. This represents a 26% increase over the past decade.

"If you look at the current media coverage on drug misuse, I'm not sure you would realise that alcohol actually kills three times as many people as drug misuse every year.

"That's not to play down the issues with drug misuse, it's about reflecting the true impact alcohol misuse has."

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