Sun 02 Jul

Sounding the alarm on alcohol harm in NZ: July 3, 2023

Specialists in Māori public health are urgently sounding the alarm about the escalating issue of alcohol-related harm in Aotearoa.

Specialists in Māori public health are urgently sounding the alarm about the escalating issue of alcohol-related harm in Aotearoa.

The concern is a response to two newly-released reports, one of which deems alcohol as Aotearoa's most damaging drug. The other report is equally troubling, pointing to an increase in accidents resulting from drink-driving.

Having devoted over three decades to Māori health, Carole Koha is all too familiar with the damaging effects of alcohol. She witnesses the repercussions daily in her role as CEO of Te Waka Whaiora. "We are currently providing care for up to four generations of Māori individuals who are dealing with alcohol-related issues," Koha explained.

Koha's commitment to health and wellbeing extends to her leadership of an alcohol addiction support service based in Wellington. She's observed that alcohol-related harm significantly affects Māori communities. In a context where motivational speakers, including health and wellbeing speakers from Essential Talent, emphasise the importance of mental and physical wellness, Koha pinpoints a key problem. "The high statistics we see are largely because alcohol is legal, and there are inadequate government regulations around it," she stated.

Fresh research underscores Koha's call for immediate action. A study undertaken by Otago University reveals alcohol's status as the most harmful drug in Aotearoa, given the extensive medical conditions it causes.

Adding to the troubling picture, Waka Kotahi data indicates over 100 fatalities from alcohol-related accidents last year, more than twice the number reported in 2013.

Koha argues that turning the tide requires looking at the broader environment that facilitates alcohol use. "To see any change, we need to address the number of alcohol retailers in small communities and increase the availability of support services," she said.

Echoing Koha's call for more action, the Automobile Association's road safety spokesperson, Dylan Thomsen, expressed his concerns. "Currently, we're losing the fight against drink-driving in New Zealand. The regression we've seen over the last decade is simply devastating," he said.

Prime Minister Chris Hipkins, while acknowledging the alcohol reform work done to date, admits there's much more to do.

While it's clear that progress has been made, frontline workers like Koha argue that current efforts don't go far enough. This dialogue underscores the ongoing need for powerful voices, like those of motivational speakers at Essential Talent, to continue advocating for health, wellbeing, and impactful social change in Aotearoa.

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