One in four deaths of young men aged from 15 to 39 in Ireland is due to alcohol and drink is a factor in half of all suicides, according to the Health Research Board.
Alcohol is also involved in more than one third of cases of deliberate self-harm, peaking around weekends and public holidays.
Those grim statistics are among the challenges for the medical professional nationwide and yesterday the first regional Alcohol Strategy to tackle the damage caused by alcohol in counties Cork and Kerry was launched at Cork County Hall.
“Our overarching principle in terms of strategy is to reduce the harm caused by alcohol in Cork and Kerry,” said David Lane, co-ordinator of Drug & Alcohol Services at HSE South.
While welcoming the new Public Health (Alcohol) Bill, Mr Lane said its slow progress through the legislature was frustrating.
“We need this new legislation as a matter of urgency,” he said.
“In fact, the minimum unit pricing which is a central plank of the Bill should have been put in place years ago. In the meantime, more than one person every week in this country dies of alcohol poisoning. They just consume alcohol and no other drug and die from it. That is quite shocking.”
Among the HRB findings: n Alcohol consumption in Ireland almost trebled between 1960 (4.9 litres) and 2001 (14.3 litres); n Almost two thirds (63.9%) of males started drinking alcohol before the age of 18; n Four in five (80.3%) male drinkers consumed six or more standard drinks on occasion.
Those attending the launch of the strategy heard that liver disease rates are increasing rapidly in Ireland and the greatest level of increase is among 15- to 34-year-olds, who historically had the lowest rates of liver disease.
As well as that, 900 people are diagnosed with alcohol-related cancers with around 500 people dying from these diseases every year. Drink driving is also factor in one third of all deaths on Irish roads.
The bill aims to reduce alcohol consumption in Ireland to 9.1 litres per person per annum by 2020 and to reduce the harms associated with alcohol. It consists of 29 sections and includes five main provisions.
These are: Minimum unit pricing; health labelling of alcohol products; the regulation of advertising and sponsorship of alcohol products; structural separation of alcohol products in mixed trading outlets; and the regulation of the sale and supply of alcohol in certain circumstances.
However, Mr Lane lamented the absence in the proposed legislation of any attempt to tackle seriously the marketing of alcohol, particularly in its association with sporting events.
“We might be turning a corner,” said Mr Lane.
“The Public Health (Alcohol) Bill outlines some positive steps to tackle the issue for the first time in a meaningful way.
“It might be the first step in introducing minimum unit pricing which we, as an Alcohol Strategy Group for Cork and Kerry, will fully support. But Ireland needs to strengthen its resolve to tackle the availability and marketing of alcohol in a meaningful way too.
“Finally, we must include alcohol as part of our response to substance misuse and when our National Drugs Strategy runs out at the end of 2016 we must include alcohol in a new National Substance Misuse Strategy from the start of 2017.”
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved