28 Jun 2010

Six-fold surge in deaths from alcohol

6:30 pm on 28 June 2010

The number of alcohol-related deaths investigated by the Coroner's Office has increased dramatically, mostly due to binge drinking.

In the eight years to 2008, the toll rose by more than six times to 254.

National Addiction Centre director Doug Sellman says the figures, which mostly reflect the growth of a heavy drinking culture, are just the tip of the iceberg.

Dr Sellman says deaths investigated by a coroner usually involve deadly alcohol poisoning, but more than 1000 other people die each year as a result of accidents and diseases caused by excessive drinking.

"Half of them are from injury and half are from chronic disease, so the deaths directly from poisoning are actually relatively small in terms of the whole picture."

Dr Sellman is calling for the Government to increase the price of alcohol, restrict advertising and lower the legal blood alcohol limit, as recommended by the Law Commission earlier this year.

The commission is also calling for the legal age when people can buy alcohol to be raised to 20, and restricting trading hours at liquor outlets.

Alcohol mars Ohakune Mardi Gras

Meanwhile police will boost their presence at the Mountain Mardi Gras in Ohakune next year, following dozens of arrests at the event at the weekend. They say the St John Ambulance tent looked like a war triage zone. Of the 54 arrests, 50 related to excessive drinking.

Ruapehu Area Commander Steve Mastrovich says the event was well run, but many young people arrived drunk.

He says several young women suffered hypothermia, while others got separated from their friends and were too drunk to remember where they lived.

Inspector Mastrovich says most of the arrests were made outside the main event.

Group to lobby for alcohol reform

Former governor-general Sir Paul Reeves is leading a group of prominent New Zealanders lobbying for alcohol reform.

Sir Paul says he and other members of the group will be at Parliament on Wednesday to deliver a message to politicians that new legislation is needed to tackle New Zealand's heavy drinking culture.

The Government is preparing its response to this year's Law Commission report.

Sir Paul says it's a unique opportunity to begin to deal with what is one of the most important social issues of our time.