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A kronically inept government…

2009 BERL report estimated that “$4.437 million of diverted resources and lost welfare” could be directly attributed to alcohol abuse. That $4.4 billion  is reflected in  ACC, hospital admissions, crime, family violence, lost productivity, etc, and places a firm dollar cost on the harm that alcohol abuse is causing NZ society. These are costs we all pay for through ACC levies and taxes spent on medical intervention; policing; and the justice system.

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This research estimates the social costs of harmful alcohol and other drug use, excluding tobacco, in New Zealand.  Harms related to drug use include a wide range of crime, lost output, health service use and other diverted resources.  Harmful use has both opportunity costs, which divert resources from alternative beneficial uses, and psychological or intangible costs, such as reduced quality or length of life.

The report provides four broad answers.  It estimates the:

  • total social costs from harmful drug use in 2005/06.
  • potential level of social costs that are avoidable.
  • cost to society stemming from alcohol and other drug-related injuries
  • social costs from harmful drug use borne by the government

The study shows that harmful drug use imposed a substantial cost on New Zealand in 2005/06.

  • Overall, harmful drug use in 2005/06 caused an estimated $6,525 million of social costs.
  • Harmful alcohol use in 2005/06 cost New Zealand an estimated $4,437 million of diverted resources and lost welfare.
  • Harmful other drug use was estimated to cost $1,427 million, of which $1,034 million were tangible costs.
  • Joint alcohol and other drug use that could not be separately allocated to one drug category cost a further $661 million. If the joint costs are split proportionately, total alcohol and total other drug costs equate to $4,939 million (over three quarters) and $1,585 million (just under one quarter).
  • Using estimates from international research, this study suggests that up to 50 percent ($3,260 million) of the social costs of harmful drug use may be avoidable.
  • The research indicated that 29.9 percent (or $1,951 million) of the social costs of harmful drug use result from injury.
  • The costs of harmful drug use from a government perspective amount to an estimated $1,602 million, or just over one third (35.1 percent) of the total tangible costs to society. 

BERL project reference: #4577

Click here for the report.

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Add to that the non-dollar, unquantifiable terms of  human misery of injury, violence,  and deaths, and we have a perfectly legal product that is causing much grief in our communities.

Let me present to readers  a few recent headlines, to remind us of how this problem is affecting our community…

Public pressure has forced government to look at this serious problem and an Alcohol Reform Bill is currently being considered by Parliament’s Justice and Electoral Select Committee. It has been a slowly progressing Bill – first introduced in November last year. Thus far, over 8,000 written submissions have been recieved by the Select Committee.

The Select Committee was due to report back to Parliament in June. The deadline was extended to the end of August. That is now unlikely, and the report will probably not be presented or passed until after the election (in November). This means no action is likely until Parliament reconvenes next year.

Part of the problem has been heavy lobbying by the liquor industry, and associated business interests, to water-down any meaningful reforms.

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In fact, the liquor industry has been well co-ordinated in their opposition. Note the following from two different websites;

Hospitality Industry of New Zealand

Tourism Industry Blogsite

The sharp-sighted will note similarity in writing style – written by the same person(s)?

It is no great secret that this country – our society – has a considerable problem with alcohol. The financial costs; the social costs; the waste of police and Courts’ time in dealing with alcohol-fueled violence and crime; the injuries; and the deaths – all exacerbated by cheap, easily accessible alcohol, and promoted by ubiquitous million dollar advertising campaigns.

Those at the coal-face have to pick up the human ‘wreckage’ of the over-indulgence of some;

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They have to deal with drunken, aggressive idiots like this chap;

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Mr Lett is one of 700,000 heavy drinkers in this country. It is by no means a “small minority” as some would insist – this is a considerable social problem. And it is not restricted to specific age groups or ethnicities; alcohol is being abused by young and old; male and female; pakeha, maori, Pacific Islander, et al – booze is non-discriminatory.

The alcohol industry’s marketting of RTDs (Ready To Drink) is, in itself insidious. These are cheap products and easily consumed in handy cans and small bottles. RTDs give considerable cause for concern to health professionals and the Police.

These RTDs are especially favoured by young people, with their high sugar content; pleasant flavours that appeal to an immature palate; and off course the alcohol-content;

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Last year, I found these products available at “Super Liquor Stokes Valley”, in Lower Hutt. They are an RTD, “William Cody’s Bourbon and Cola“. Price, $2 a can. Alcohol content, 10%. Amount in can, 150ml.

The cans are 9cm high. Just the right size for a small hand – like a young teenager, or a child. And at $2, are very accessibly priced for young people who do not have much money. They are cheaper than buying a bourbon & cola in a bar or restaurant.

These products should be banned, or a higher, minimum-pricing, regime introduced.

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"William Cody's Bourbon & Cola" Price: $2.00

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Stokes Valley Super Liquor receipt

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William Cody’s Bourbon and Cola” is manufactured by Independent Liquor – a company well-known for producing and marketting RTDs. Their website unashamedly promotes these RTDs.

The result of cheap, easily available liquor, is predictable;

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It’s becoming an urban “war zone”;  the injured and dangerously intoxicated; being patched up by para-medics; and then dashed to our ED Wards, for treatment.  But even our dedicated, over-worked, medical professionals seem to be be stressed to the point where some are wondering why they should bother anymore;

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Doesn’t it strike us as simply bizarre that we have ambulances stationed at “party hotspots” and our medical staff at public hospitals are abused, assaulted, and stressed by drunken fools – all on a regular basis? Is this acceptable to us, as the society we want to live in? Because it sure as hell doesn’t impress me as desirable or particularly sensible.

Since the heady days of de-regulation in the late 1980s and early 1990s, liquor has become easier to buy; outlets more prolific; and cheaper. Bars and liquor retailers can be open to the earely hours of the morning with many open 24 hours a day.

This has become a bone of contention in communities such as Cannons Creek, in Porirua, who are having to deal with the easy availability of booze, and subsequent abuse. It is simply outrageous that the liquor industry can make billions in profits, whilst local communities have to deal with the fall-out of alcohol abuse.

In what manner is this even remotely socially acceptable?

Or is it ok when it happens in socially-depressed areas such as South Auckland and Porirua?

Ironically whilst the  Alcohol Reform Bill is “stuck” in Parliament,

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“Among its more contentious provisions were a split drinking age of 18 for bars and 20 for off-licence purchases, alcohol limits for ready-to-drink beverages and reduced opening hours.

More than 8000 submissions on the bill were received and the select committee was granted two extensions, having originally been due to report back in May.

A spokesman for Justice Minister Simon Power said the Government intended to make progress on the bill, but whether it passed would depend on the legislative programme.” Source

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The Bill is unlikely to be passed before the coming election?  Yet,  Peter’s Dunne managed to get ‘Kronic’ banned in a matter of weeks;

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Number of deaths of young people due to ‘Kronic’:  1 (?)

Number of deaths of young people due to alcohol: 87 (!)

Obvious course of action: ban ‘Kronic’?!

Let’s not beat around the bush here. ‘Kronic’ is not a source of huge profits for liquor corporations and neither is it the drug-of-choice for Middle Class Baby Boomers. Hence it can be banned faster than anyone can say “moral panic”.

And yet, even the National Business Review called it, when they ran this article recently;

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Unfortunately, despite that NBR article acknowledging the problems caused by alcohol abuse, the author falls back on trite, libertarian cliches; it’s not our problem; alcohol restrictions are an over-reaction; and belittles those who advocate controls.  Calling alcohol the “new drug bogeyman” is not only unhelpful, but trivialises a $4.4 billion dollar problem in this country.

Suggesting that “proposal[s] to give greater discretion to local government in liquor licensing, hand over authority to people and bodies whose views tend to be less liberal” is actually not a reason not to address this growing community crisis. In fact, giving local people control over their communities is precisely where we should be heading. After all, who better to determine local needs than local people?

If it was good enough to de-volve power from the old Ministry of Education to local schools, and implement “Tomorrows Schools” – which allowed local communities to elect their own School Boards – then why shouldn’t communities make determinations when it comes to other issues? Especially issues involving, literally, life and and death problems?

Interesting, Ben Thomas’s article in the NBR was written in June 2008 – during the previous Labour administration. The “catch cry” of Labour’s political opponants was “Nany State! Nanny State!”.

I wonder if Mr Thomas has changed his views now that National is in power and confronted by the very same social problems that Labour faced?

The problem that our society is facing is brought into harsh focus by the deaths of young people like David Gaynor, Michael Treffers, James Webster, Frank van Kampen, et al. (I am mentioning only white, Middle Class New Zealanders, as they are the ones that the  White, Middle Class Baby Boomers seem to take notice of.)

The growing crisis of alcohol abuse, though, is much, much wider than most folk realise;

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Babies born with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome should give us particular cause to worry. Such brain-damaged babies grow up into brain-damaged adults. Adult females with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome can exhibit brain damage through low IQ. They may become pregnant themselves; drink whilst pregnant; and the cycle perpetuates to the next generation.

Each person with FAS often requires high levels of medical intervention and ongoing community support from tax-payer funded services.  In other words, my fellow Middle Class Baby Boomers: we are paying for it. Hence BERL’s estimation of the high costs of alcohol abuse in NZ.

Am I getting your attention now?

Associate Health Minister, Peter Dunne,  had his “urgent legislation pass through Parliament last month. Urgent legislation to ban ‘Kronic’ – not control alcohol. ‘Kronic’ was simply “inserted” into the pending Misuse of Drugs Amendment Bill that was proceeding through the House.

Amazing how politicians can move quickly on some problems, but not others?

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That’s how quickly it took, folks. A matter of a few weeks, and ‘Kronic’ was consigned to illegality.

I emailed Peter Dunne on this issue,

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To date, I have not received any response from the Associate Health Minister’s office.

As for the Alcohol Reform Bill, some up-dates;

Alcohol Reform Bill – Press Release: The Alcohol Advisory Council

Parliament

130 changes to alcohol reform bill given tick by Govt

Let’s hope that no one dies between now and the Bill being passed into law, next year.

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Additional Reading

Violence increases in Wellington

Vicious assault in central Wellington

Assault victim’s rehab ‘one to two years’

 

 

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  1. Bruce
    11 October 2011 at 10:11 am

    Excellent and in relation to your Dom Post comment very relevant.

  2. 11 October 2011 at 10:28 am

    Bruce :

    Excellent and in relation to your Dom Post comment very relevant.

    Thank you, Bruce! It’s certainly a contentious issue and everything has their 5 cents + gst worth to say on the matter…

  1. 20 November 2011 at 7:12 pm
  2. 9 April 2012 at 5:23 pm
  3. 5 July 2012 at 6:27 pm
  4. 16 August 2012 at 10:29 pm

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