Dr Tony Holohan’s stark alert came as new research revealed the alcohol industry is aggressively targeting young people, including children, online.
He was speaking at an alcohol conference during which leading child psychiatrist Dr Bobby Smyth said advertising guidelines were “nonsense” and that society had been “tricked” by a hugely resourced industry.
Marketing lecturer Pat Kenny told the conference, organised by Alcohol Action Ireland, that the industry guidelines were not being adhered to online.
Dr Holohan, who is the Department of Health’s chief medical officer, listed to a packed conference the damage inflicted by alcohol:
- More than four times as many people die from alcohol than all other drugs combined.
- One in four deaths involving males aged 15-34 were caused by alcohol, compared to one in 25 being due to cancer.
- Half of suicides by young males were due to alcohol.
- One in six child abuse cases were attributed to alcohol.
- Half of perpetrators and victims of sexual assault were drunk at the time.
Dr Holohan said alcohol accounted for 2,000 bed nights every day in hospitals and three out of 10 emergency attendances.
“Over 10% of all general inpatient hospital costs, 14% of psychiatric hospital costs, 7% of GP costs and up to 30% of emergency department costs are due to the effects of alcohol. For 2007, the total costs imposed by alcohol on the public healthcare system were €1.2 billion.
“This country just cannot afford this anymore in terms of money, never mind in terms of the loss of health and happiness.”
He said Ireland had an “alcohol epidemic and that we needed to “stop turning a blind eye” to this reality.
Dr Holohan is co-chairing the combined National Substance Misuse Strategy steering committee, due to report by the end of the year.
The multi-disciplinary group includes representation from the alcohol industry.
He said there were those who did not share his desire to protect public health and were claiming the strategy was biased and were lobbying to frustrate policy.
But he said: “We must now say that we will no longer accept this burden that alcohol is placing on our families, our society, our health and our lives. And we must act now.”