Packaged liquor sales are acting as a major contributor to alcohol-related harm in rural areas, according to a new study published in Emergency Medicine Australasia, the journal for the Australasian College for Emergency Medicine (ACEM).
In the eight-month study, people presenting with injuries at an emergency department in rural South West Victoria were asked a series of questions including whether they had consumed alcohol in the 12 hours prior to injury, how much they had drunk and where they had bought most of the alcohol.
60% of respondents had bought most of their alcohol at packaged liquor outlets like bottle shops or supermarkets, the study found.
Approximately a quarter of these had gone on to have further drinks – including their ‘last drink’ prior to injury – at a licensed venue or public event.
“This is the first study of its kind to effectively map the source of alcohol-related ED attendances in a rural community,” said Associate Professor Peter Miller, lead researcher on the study, “It allows for the identification of problematic licensed venues and public areas and opens up great opportunity for further intervention; it’s a powerful tool to help communities tackle the problem of alcohol harm.”
Over half of the respondents who had bought most of their alcohol at packaged liquor outlets had consumed their last drink before injury at home, adding to the body of evidence that indicates many problem drinkers ‘pre-load’ at home with alcohol bought at a bottle shop or supermarket.
“The permissive culture that exists around the advertising, regulation and taxation of alcohol needs to be urgently addressed if we want to diminish the amount of harm it causes,” said Associate Professor Diana Egerton-Warburton, Chair of the ACEM Public Health Committee and Clinical Lead on the ACEM Alcohol Harm in Emergency Departments (AHED) Project.
There was also scope to introduce further measures to help reduce the harm caused by alcohol, Associate Professor Egerton-Warburton said.
“An effective brief intervention program – whereby drunks coming into the ED are screened and possibly referred for further treatment – could reduce the number of bloody idiots that we end up having to deal with,” she said, “Our research suggests that these drunks are often violent to staff, adversely affect other patient care and use a huge amount of resources.”
Dr Miller worked with Researchers from the Centre for Rural Emergency Medicine to add questions to a computerised triage system. “These data were generated with minimal cost, great cooperation among staff and no impact to the quality of patient care,” added Associate Professor Miller, “We’re already refining this model and hope to be engaging in a much larger trial very soon.”