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Curtin University
National Drug Research Institute

Preventing Harmful Drug Use In Australia

Media Release


Date: embargoed until 1:00:00 PM Tuesday, 22 September 2009

Alcohol-caused death rates decline but hospitalisations keep on rising

NOTE: Electronic copy of NAIP Bulletin 12 available at http://ndri.curtin.edu.au/research/naip.cfm

The number of Australians hospitalised for preventable injuries and illnesses caused by risky drinking has risen by a third in a decade, and there are indications that this trend is set to continue, putting huge pressure on the healthcare system, now and in the future.

New research from the National Drug Research Institute (NDRI) found that alcohol continues to be a major preventable cause of death, injury and disease for many Australians. Risky or high risk alcohol consumption caused the death of 32,696 Australians aged 15 and older in the 10 years from 1996 to 2005, and 813,072 Australians were hospitalised due to alcohol-caused injury and disease over the same period.

While the death rate due to alcohol has declined in most regions, the number of hospitalisations from alcohol-caused injury and disease has risen substantially in every state and territory. The major cause of alcohol-attributable death was alcoholic liver cirrhosis and the leading cause of hospitalisations was alcohol dependence.

NDRI Associate Professor Tanya Chikritzhs said that the most significant increases in rates of alcohol-caused hospitalisations occurred in Victoria, NSW, ACT and Tasmania. In the larger of these states, deregulation of the liquor industry has substantially increased access to alcohol over the last decade, including dramatic increases in numbers of outlets and more 24-hour and late opening venues. States with tighter controls on access to alcohol such as Western Australia and Queensland fared better.

Professor Chikritzhs said there were several reasons why alcohol-attributable death rates were decreasing while hospitalisation rates were increasing, including improved screening and treatment for alcohol-caused illnesses, and also that the most common conditions that put people in hospital (such as alcohol dependence, falls and assault) were different to those which more frequently resulted in death (such as alcoholic liver cirrhosis, road crash injury, stroke and cancer).

“Every week, on average, risky or high risk drinking is killing more than 60 Australians and putting another 1,500 people – the equivalent of a small town – in hospital, due to injury or disease that is entirely preventable”, said Professor Chikritzhs.

The research is the twelfth bulletin from the National Alcohol Indicators Project (NAIP) which monitors and reports on trends in alcohol-related harm in Australia. The ongoing project, funded by the National Drug Strategy and completed by NDRI, based at Curtin University of Technology in Perth, arose from increasing concern over levels of alcohol-related harm in the Australian community, and the need for an efficient monitoring system on alcohol.

Further Information:

Associate Professor Tanya Chikritzhs
Associate Professor, National Drug Research Institute
Curtin University
Phone: 61 (0)8 9266 1609
Mobile: 0408 426420

Professor Steve Allsop
Director, National Drug Research Institute
Curtin University
Phone: 61 (0)8 9266 1600
Mobile: 0407 967 964

Rachael Lobo
Communications Officer, National Drug Research Institute
Curtin University
Phone: 61 (0)8 9266 1627
Mobile: 0414 682 055

Vic Rechichi
Communications Officer, National Drug Research Institute
Curtin University
Phone: 61 (0)8 9266 1627
Mobile: 0414 682 055

David Mountain
AMA WA Emergency Department Spokeperson, AMA
Phone: 08 9273 3018
Mobile: 0411 746 418

Background:

NOTES FOR EDITORS

STATE-BY-STATE INFORMATION

Australian Capital Territory

The Australian Capital Territory is the only jurisdiction where the rate of alcohol-caused deaths increased over the past decade, up by 12%. By comparison, deaths rates dropped by a quarter nationally and deaths caused by something other than alcohol or tobacco rose by only 8% in the ACT. The actual number of deaths rose from 39 to 54. Alcohol-attributable hospitalisation rates also rose in all age groups, up 64% overall. The actual number of people hospitalised rose from 541 to 1,000.

Queensland

In Queensland, the rate of increase in alcohol-caused hospitalisations was below the national average, rising by 20 percent in 10 years, with the actual number of hospitalisations increasing from 14,997 to 21,601. However, Queensland still exceeds the national rate of alcohol-caused hospitalisations in Australia, with 69 people per 10,000 being hospitalized in 2005 compared with a national average of 62 per 10,000. The estimated number of deaths caused by alcohol dropped from 693 to 624 over the decade.

New South Wales

In New South Wales, alcohol-caused hospitalisation rates increased by 27 percent over a decade, with the actual number of hospitalisations increasing from 24,728 to 35,203. The number of alcohol-attributable deaths decreased from 1,199 to 1,031.

Northern Territory

In the Northern Territory, deaths due to alcohol are frequent and remain relatively unchanged, from 98 a decade ago to 88. Hospitalisation rates for alcohol-attributable injury and disease have more than doubled, rising by 59%. The actual number of people hospitalised rose from 1,176 to 2,173.

South Australia

In South Australia, the estimated number of alcohol-caused deaths fell from 311 to 283 over the decade. South Australia has the second lowest rate of alcohol-caused hospitalisations in the country, with 53 people per 10,000 being hospitalized in 2005 compared with a national average rate of 62 per 10,000. Even so, the rate of increase in alcohol-caused hospitalisations was 22 percent, rising from 5,100 to 6,756 over the decade.

Tasmania

In Tasmania, alcohol-caused hospitalisation rates increased sharply by 58 percent over a decade, with the actual number of people hospitalised increasing from 1,342 to 2,262. The rate of alcohol-caused deaths dropped by 15 percent over the period, with the actual number of alcohol-attributable deaths decreasing from 111 to 106.

Victoria

In Victoria, whilst the number of deaths dropped from 724 to 668 and the state maintained the lowest rate of alcohol-attributable deaths, it recorded the largest increase in hospitalisation rates in Australia over the decade. The number of people hospitalised due to alcohol caused injury or illness jumped from 11,571 to 23,144, with the rate of hospitalisations increasing by 77 percent. The number of licensed premises in Victoria increased from 2,000 to 24,000 over the same period.

Western Australia

In Western Australian the alcohol-caused hospitalisation rate increased by around 15 percent over the decade - the lowest percentage increase in Australia at about half the national level. By comparison, the rate of non-alcohol caused hospitalisations increased by 40 percent in the state over the same period. The actual number of hospitalisations rose from 6,832 to 9,137, and the estimated number of deaths caused by alcohol dropped from 331 to 289 over the decade.