Australia, the sixth largest country in the world, known for its remarkable landscapes and low population density (three people per square kilometre), is actually striving to save its citizens from alcohol and illicit drugs. Recent analysis from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW), the national agency for information and statistics on the country’s wellbeing, reveals that one out of every 20 deaths is directly attributable to alcohol and illicit drugs. Meanwhile, for indirect or secondary causes related to alcohol and other drug use, the statistic is much higher. The situation is alarming, with around half a million Australians seeking treatment for alcohol and other drug-related issues and the public sector barely resourced to treat one third of that number.

Watchdogs over $20 billion alcohol industry are owned by the industry

Alcohol, drugs, death, business

         “Quasi-regulatory system”

Australia has a drinking culture, with alcohol playing a unique role in the fabric of everyday life. The alcohol industry contributes more than $20 billion annually to the national economy and employs more than half a million people. The industry, through its powerful lobby groups and associations, carries the extraordinarily heavy responsibility for self-regulation. DrinkWise Australia is owned and fully sponsored by the alcohol industry, and the Alcohol Beverages Advertising Code Scheme, by its own admission, is a “quasi-regulatory system of alcohol marketing regulation”. The latter has only one “quasi-rule”, which is that alcohol marketing can only be directed at an audience that is made up of 75% adults. However, that percentage is calculated by the industry itself.

Nearly all-day marketing, unenforceability of self-regulation are a mockery

Alcohol, drugs, death, business

“Industry can never be held responsible”

The two caveats to these quasi-rule rules are 1), that if there is sponsorship, such as for a sporting event, then the percentage of adults viewing alcohol marketing becomes irrelevant. Australia is most likely one of the few countries in the world where sporting events are featured on television from morning to night. And, 2), that the industry can never be held responsible if they do breach their own rules. In this modern world of disruptive technologies and individually tailored, marketing based psychosocial profiles from social media, anyone would have to be completely naïve to believe that the alcohol industry does not take full advantage of this unfettered commercial opportunity to target current customers, while grooming future customers. The World Health Organisation has consistently maintained in all its publications that alcohol and it’s related problems within a community is impacted heavily by three main causes: price, accessibility and ADVERTISING. Today, at any Aldi store, a four-litre cask of wine is $8.99.

Notably, the count of males contributing to the report is much higher than that for females. While the health impact on women due to alcohol and illicit drugs is 3.8%, men are more than doubling that figure, at 9.1%. Unsurprisingly, alcohol itself is responsible for more than a third of the road-traffic injuries in the nation. This figure is huge if we talk about the country that is nearly close to “underpopulated” status! Talk about illicit drugs, it has had an impact on almost 2.3% of Australia’s total population that suffers from some kind of disease(s).

Alcohol rarely publicised as key link to coronary heart disease

Alcohol, drugs, death, businessDespite the eye-opening impact that alcohol has had on Australians, it is predicted that the count will surely decrease in the coming years. However, this is not guaranteed. High levels of alcohol consumption are major contributing factors for high blood pressure and triglyceride levels, which both lead to coronary heart disease, the leading cause of death in Australia at around 11,000 people annually, twice the rate for deaths by lung cancer. Alcohol and coronary heart disease are rarely linked in any formal health report. Following the trends, the health impact of alcohol had shown a dip and fell around 7% between the year 2003 and 2011. And, it is now expected to go down by 2020. However, this is not the case with illicit medicines. It was already expected that between the years 2011 and 2020, the health impact of the amphetamines will rise 14%, while for cannabis use it will rise nearly 36% for women and stay the same for men. Digging to the roots, opioids have their mark at 41% of the total diseased population, followed by amphetamine’s 18%; cocaine, 8%; and cannabis, 7%. Further, the health impacts caused by unsafe injecting practices are expected to fall 17% for woman and 21% for men.

Drug-induced deaths in 2016 hit 20-year high

The figure for drug-induced deaths reported for 2016 was 1,808, which marks its highest level in 20 years. The count was contributed by most of the middle-aged individuals living outside the capital regions who misused prescription drugs, such as oxycodone or benzodiazepines, in a polypharmacy setting. While prescription drugs are the major contributors to the highest number of drug-induced deaths, there is a rapid expansion in the count of methamphetamine deaths, which is about four times the ratio earlier reported in 1999 (0.4 deaths compared to 1.6 deaths per 1,000 persons for today). Reportedly, deaths from prescription opiates and benzodiazepines are common among older people (45 years and over) while deaths from substances such as methamphetamines and heroin are prominent among a younger demographic group (under 35 years).

Final thought

Alcohol, drugs, death, businessEach year, roughly 20% of Australians aged 16-85 experience a mental health illness. Of those, 50% also have an alcohol or other drug-use disorder. Almost half of all Australians will experience a mental illness in their lifetime, over 54% of whom will never receive treatment. The ongoing costs to the community are very difficult to calculate. Sick days, occupational injuries, affected co-workers, work-cover-related incidents, unhealthy workplaces, insurance claims, emergency ward visits, ambulance calls, road accidents, crime, policing, affected police, ambulance and emergency service workers, prisons, pharmaceuticals, hospitals, GPs, young people exposed to continual heavy drinking practices, welfare, social services, youth service, youth residential services, courts, mental illness, dual diagnoses, victims of violence, victims of domestic violence, rehabilitation, affected family and friends of people with an alcohol and or other drug problem is a list that is far from an exaggeration. And the list just keeps growing. Almost no one in Australia is immune to the effects of alcohol and or other drug-related issues.