Call for Urgent Action to Tackle Rising Alcohol Deaths in Scotland
21 Apr 2023
The Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow have joined with over 30 organisations to call for an emergency response by the Scottish Government to tackle rising alcohol deaths. The briefing led by Alcohol Focus Scotland highlights the ongoing concern around alcohol related death and recommended steps the Scottish Government must take to prevent future harm.
The Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow have joined with over 30 organisations to call for an emergency response by the Scottish Government to tackle rising alcohol deaths. The briefing led by Alcohol Focus Scotland highlights the ongoing concern around alcohol related death and recommended steps the Scottish Government must take to prevent future harm. Although alcohol harm has been rightly declared by the Scottish Government as a public health crisis, there has not yet been the same urgency to act compared to the efforts in responding to rising drug deaths.
Alcohol harm at its most extreme leads to a tragic, premature and ultimately avoidable loss of life. The National Records of Scotland reported that 1,245 people died from alcohol specific causes in 2021, the highest number since 2008. Those who are suffering from alcohol harm are likely to be increasingly vulnerable to other harms, particularly alcohol related diseases, in addition to violence, unemployment, domestic abuse, child neglect and the breakdown of close relationships. As a result, the detrimental impact of alcohol extends beyond the individual to have adverse effects on families, friends and society as a whole.
A sharp rise in alcohol related death is likely to be attributed to the change in drinking habits, specifically an increase in harmful consumption and reduction in access to services as a result of the pandemic. However, the briefing reports that data from England shows the trajectory of alcohol related death continues to pose a significant concern even if drinking habits return to pre-pandemic levels, making a focus on action to reduce harm more crucial than ever before.
The disproportionate impact from health inequalities remains at the forefront, as this issue is exacerbated in the nation’s poorest areas. Those living in our most deprived communities are five times more likely to die due to alcohol than people in the wealthiest. Current interventions such as Minimum Unit Pricing have had proven positive effects on preventing alcohol harm, but such policies must be reinforced with actions to address the wider determinants of health to tackle long-term problems.
The Scottish government has made a welcome commitment to tackle the burden of alcohol and improve access to support and treatment following pandemic restrictions. However, there is a concern that the recent delay on restricting alcohol marketing has stalled efforts to reduce harm. It is vital that now the commitments are fulfilled to ensure people have the right to receive the healthcare they need and deserve.
The briefing calls on the Scottish Government to expand “treatment and support” that mirrors the significant £250 million investment in drug rehabilitation, with an alcohol recovery service that is widely accessible in communities, meets individual need and offers clear pathways to care and support. A focus on treatment must be paired with the prioritisation of “effective prevention polices” by the Scottish Government, which build upon increasing unit pricing including; the restriction of alcohol marketing, expanding health labelling on alcohol products, providing evidence-based and independently developed education material, sustaining investment in youth services, introducing an Alcohol Harm Prevention Levy with funds redirected into prevention and treatment services and working with the UK Government to ensure an alcohol duty structure is proportionate to the harm caused by alcohol.
The briefing published by Alcohol Focus Scotland, including the full list of recommendations can be found here: Alcohol Focus Scotland – Emergency Responses Required to Prevent Deaths from Alcohol
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