Doctors demand action on alcohol harms

drug treatments: red wine spills from glass onto beige carpet

Ahead of Federal Parliament resuming next week, the AMA is calling on the Government to renew its focus on addressing the many ways that the misuse of alcohol is causing harm across the Australian community.

AMA President, Professor Brian Owler, says that the AMA acknowledges that some governments are working on new solutions and actions to address alcohol-related harms that touch the lives of most Australians – but it is too slow.

“It is nine months since the AMA National Alcohol Summit in Canberra, which called on the Australian Government to drive all our governments in the development of a new National Alcohol Strategy,” Prof Owler says.

“The response from most governments has been slow, but the tragic results of alcohol abuse continue at a fast pace, taking lives, destroying health, fuelling domestic violence, breaking up families, and ruining lives.

“Every hour of every day, in every corner of the country, alcohol is causing harm.”

Australia has a big problem with alcohol, he says.

“More than half of Australian drinkers consume alcohol in excess of the recommended intake, and one in five Australians drink alcohol at a level that puts them at risk of lifetime harm for injury or disease,” says Prof Owler.

“The health, social, and economic burden caused by alcohol in Australia is substantial and unacceptable.

“Alcohol-related violence, chronic disease, accidents, and death occur frequently, and harm not only the individual drinker, but also families, bystanders, and the wider community.

“As doctors, AMA members see the devastating effects of alcohol abuse too often – from victims of domestic abuse in the local general practice to the victims of car accidents and senseless violence turning up in emergency departments.”

Prof Owler says that the AMA is not calling for a ban on alcohol, but for a safer and more responsible drinking culture in this country.

“A National Alcohol Strategy – agreed and owned by all Australian governments – is needed to help drive this important change. We need it now. It will save lives.”

Prof Owler says that the Federal Government had shown what is possible with the establishment of the National Ice Task Force.

“The Government is to be congratulated for taking a stand to deal with the ‘ice’ scourge that is damaging lives, families, and communities,” Prof Owler says.

“But alcohol is a bigger problem – alcohol abuse is far and away the leading cause of disability among substance use disorders.

“We need a similar strong, decisive – and quick – response to the scourge of alcohol.”

The 2014 AMA Alcohol Summit identified that a new National Alcohol Strategy should:

  • Set out the role of the Australian Government in leading a consistent national approach to the supply of, and access to, alcohol.
  • Include the development and implementation of effective and sustained advertising and community-led public education campaigns that address the public’s understanding of unsafe drinking and the harms of excess alcohol use. Campaigns should target a range of priority audiences, including young people and pregnant women.
  • Include the increased availability of targeted alcohol prevention and treatment services throughout the community, including: GP-led services and referral mechanisms; community-led interventions; safe sobering-up facilities; increased availability of addiction medicine specialist services; treatment and detoxification services at all major hospitals; and services for acute alcohol abuse at hospitals with emergency departments.
  • Include measures that specifically respond to the particular needs and preferences of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, and other culturally and linguistically diverse groups.
  • Include the development and implementation of statutory regulation of alcohol marketing and promotion, independently of the alcohol and advertising industries, with meaningful sanctions for non-compliance. Particular attention should be paid to sponsorship and promotion in the community and professional sporting industries.
  • Support research and evaluation and data collection to monitor and measure alcohol use and alcohol-related harms across the Australian community, and the effectiveness of different alcohol treatment options. Data collected by Government departments and authorities should be readily available to alcohol researchers and program evaluators.
  • Include a review of current alcohol taxation and pricing arrangements and how they can be reformed to discourage harmful drinking.
  • Ensure transparent policy development, with sufficient independence to avoid influence from industry.

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