Data highlights need for cautious approach to takeaway alcohol

New emergency department (ED) data has reinforced the strong prevalence of takeaway alcohol consumption among patients requiring hospital treatment after drinking in the Australian Capital Territory.

The findings from the Canberra and Calvary Hospitals are part of the Driving Change project, which asks all adults who present to the ED whether they drank alcohol before their attendance, where they bought the alcohol, and the location of the last drink.

The figures show that between May and July last year, over half (56%) of patients attending Canberra Hospital and over one third of people attending Calvary (32%) ED who had reported consuming alcohol in the preceding 12 hours had purchased their alcohol from packaged liquor outlets such as bottle shops. The actual figure is likely to be higher with an additional one in six of these patients unsure of the location from where they had purchased their alcohol.

With significant social distancing provisions currently in place and opportunities to consume alcohol in licensed premises curtailed as part of official responses to COVID-19, the data is a timely reminder of the need to enforce responsible retail and marketing practices and promote healthy behaviours associated with takeaway alcohol.

ACEM President Dr John Bonning said: “Consistently in recent years we have seen that a large proportion of people attending the ED for alcohol-associated issues have purchased most of their alcohol from packaged liquor outlets.”

“With large numbers of people now spending more time at home, the last thing our communities and frontline healthcare workers need is an increase in otherwise-avoidable alcohol-associated presentations at emergency departments.

“In the current environment, our emergency departments and hospitals need to maintain focus on the ongoing planning and response to COVID-19, as well as providing ongoing care to seriously ill and injured patients.

“In addition to the risks to individuals and the additional burden on healthcare systems as a result of excessive alcohol consumption, ED staff are also exposed to violence and threats from intoxicated patients. This is something that is completely unacceptable at the best of times, and particularly so now given the current stresses and challenges we are all facing.

“ACEM has long advocated for evidence-based measures, such as price, availability and access restrictions, to ensure the alcohol industry is held to account and adopts responsible retail and marketing practices to limit excessive purchases and consumption of alcohol.

ACEM supports the advocacy efforts of partner groups such as The Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education and the Alcohol Policy Coalition, which call for better government regulation of the alcohol industry and alcoholic products, including meaningful action on aggressive marketing practices.

“At the same time we urge members of the community to reconsider their drinking habits in times of COVID-19.

“As we continue to respond to this pandemic, it is important we all step up to our responsibilities to meet the significant ongoing challenges.”

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