The government also needs to ‘address alcohol’s role in health inequalities’ and implement a 50p minimum unit price ‘as soon as legally possible’, urges Changing Scotland’s relationship with alcohol: recommendations for further action. The 10 per cent cut in drinking levels could potentially ‘deliver a 20 per cent reduction in deaths and hospital admissions’ after 20 years, the report states.
Scotland continues to have the highest level of alcohol consumption and alcohol-related harm in the UK, says document, which is published in association with BMA Scotland, SHAAP and Scottish Families Affected by Alcohol & Drugs. Despite the fact that 22 Scots die from alcohol-related causes each week – twice the rate of the 1980s – the Scottish Government has cut direct funding for alcohol and drug services by more than 20 per cent, the report states, leaving the NHS to ‘plug the gap’.
Alongside more investment in treatment and prevention, the document’s other recommendations include the prohibition of all price discounting, restriction of off-sales licensing hours, reducing children’s exposure to advertising and sponsorship, and improving the identification of children affected by parental drinking. The government needs to develop a strategic approach to reducing availability, it stresses, and provide clearer information about health risks to consumers. The recommendations come ahead of the Scottish Government’s ‘refresh’ of its 2009 alcohol strategy, Changing Scotland’s relationship with alcohol: a framework for action (DDN, 9 March 2009, page 4), which is due to be published in the summer.
‘Scotland is awash with alcohol,’ said Alcohol Focus Scotland chief executive Alison Douglas. ‘Widespread availability, low prices and heavy marketing are having a devastating effect, not only on drinkers but on their children and families too. Minimum unit pricing will hopefully be introduced next year, but further action is required to turn off the tap of alcohol harm, rather than simply treating the symptoms. This report provides a blueprint which, if implemented, will improve the lives of millions of Scots, make our communities better and safer places to live, and reduce demand on our over-burdened public services.’
‘As doctors we see first-hand the damage that alcohol misuse does to patients and their families,’ added chair of BMA Scotland, Dr Peter Bennie. ‘It is essential that as a society we redouble our efforts to tackle Scotland’s damaging relationship with alcohol. The proposals we are jointly publishing today will be the yardstick against which the Scottish Government’s willingness to go further will be measured, and show how we can build upon the work that has already been done to reduce the harms that are caused by alcohol misuse in Scotland.’
Meanwhile, the percentage of Scottish drug users seeking treatment for heroin has fallen from 64 per cent in 2006-07 to 47 per cent in 2015-16, according to the latest figures from the Scottish Drug Misuse Database, while the number of under-25s reporting recent heroin use fell from 58 per cent to 25 per cent over the same period. Although the percentage of people injecting has also fallen (from 28 to 18 per cent), drug-related death rates in Scotland remain worryingly high (DDN, September 2016, page 4).
Changing Scotland’s relationship with alcohol: recommendations for further action at www.alcohol-focus-scotland.org.uk
Scottish drug misuse database: annual report, 2015/16 at www.isdscotland.org