Alcohol harm exaggerated
19 July 2019
ISOLATED and potentially selective snapshots can be of limited to no use, especially when they ignore official data.
While there is little doubt hospital Emergency Departments will be busier for a raft of reasons on Friday and Saturday nights, your piece 'Alcohol harm revealed' (18 July 2019) may give readers the impression that alcohol is a leading cause. In fact, it is not.
According to annual Australian Institute of Health and Welfare data, collected from all EDs nationwide, in the ACT over 2016-17 there were a total of 143,860 ED presentations. Just 765 were alcohol-related. That's 0.53% of total presentations. This is below the national average of 0.6% for the same year.
Previous data in the ACT, from 2014-15, reveals that the proportion of ED presentations that were alcohol-related are falling. In that year, of the total 129,961 ED presentations, 789 (or 0.6%) were alcohol-related. Data is not available for 2015-16.
While a trend based on two years is not possible, the available official data suggests alcohol-related ED presentations are not only few, but falling in the ACT, which is mirrored across the country.
The snapshot study cited in the article is also flawed in methodology. It pointedly states that any presentation where an individual consumed a drink in the previous 12 hours was deemed to be alcohol-related. This is not only bereft of any scientific rigour, but makes no practical sense.
To be clear, no-one wants to downplay the significance of alcohol-related cases. Even 0.53% of ED presentations where alcohol is a factor, is 0.53% too many.
But the overhyped notion of a crisis or sensational claims of masses of ED presentations due to alcohol, are factually wrong.
What we need is some perspective when considering these important issues. The full picture, based on comprehensive official data, should be part of that story.
Brett Heffernan, CEO, Brewers Association of Australia
This letter was published in the Canberra Times on 19 July 2019
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