Health workers warn of rising substance abuse

Norfolk health professionals today voiced their concerns about alarming numbers of young people being admitted to hospital with serious alcohol or drug-related problems.

Consultant gastroenterologist at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital, Dr Hugh Kennedy, said: “We are increasingly seeing young people, in their 20s and 30s, being admitted to hospital on a regular basis with alcohol and drug related problems. “

A lot of them have advanced alcohol-related liver disease (ALD) even at this young age. Many of them will survive for a number of years but some will die tragically at a young age leaving very young families behind. Alcohol is rapidly becoming a major public health threat to our young people.”

Alcohol not only contributes to liver disease but people are often unaware that alcohol also causes or worsens many other medical conditions such as heart disease, pancreatic and brain damage, diabetes and often leads to fatal accidents.

“We also see young people with hepatitis which has been contracted as a result of injecting drugs. There are various forms of this disease, but the most serious ones can lead to cancer of the liver,” said Dr Kennedy.

The Government is currently consulting on a draft National Alcohol Reduction Strategy to tackle the problem of alcohol misuse. Nationally, around one in six attendances at A&E departments have an alcohol-related cause and deaths from alcohol poisoning and liver cirrhosis have been rising dramatically.

There is already a national strategy for tackling drug use and this is implemented locally by the Norfolk Drug Action Team – a partnership of agencies that link together to reduce drug misuse. The partners include health, social services, police, probation service and the voluntary sector.

  • Alcohol poisoning and cirrhosis-related deaths rose from 3,853 in 1994 to 5,508 in 1999
  • 18% of drivers killed in road accidents have traces of controlled substances in their blood, which may have contributed to their accident
  • It is estimated that 40,000 deaths a year are related to alcohol
  • Around three per cent of all cancers can be attributed to alcohol
  • As many as 60% of injecting drug users in the UK are infected with Hepatitis B or C
  • Heavy drinking over long periods increases the risk of heart disease and stroke
  • Alcohol is the most common cause of liver disease in the UK
  • Around 39 per cent of men and eight per cent of women who attempt suicide are chronic problem drinkers and alcohol consumption precedes attempted overdose in 70 per cent of men and 40 per cent of women
  • Misuse of alcohol impacts on A&E where approximately 80 per cent of weekend admissions are for alcohol related injuries and problems
  • It is estimated that 40 per cent of all violent crimes take place when offenders are under the influence of alcohol.

The Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital has recently launched a one-year pilot project involving recruiting a substance misuse liaison nurse, Julia Butler, in co-operation with Norfolk Mental Health Care NHS Trust and the Norfolk Drug Action Team.

Julia's role is a pilot project funded for a year and is to help hospital staff and patients deal with and access appropriate services providing help for people with alcohol and drug problems.

Clive Rennie, who commissions substance misuse services on behalf of Norfolk’s primary care trusts, said: “We’ve funded this post because recent studies have found that drug and alcohol users have regular contact with A&E departments for various illnesses associated with drug or alcohol use. “

Julia’s role will be to assess each patient and either steer them towards treatment services or simply to provide information and advice, It’s part of a strategy to prevent accidents and illnesses cased by drugs and alcohol.”

Tuesday 31st of December 2002 09:00:38 AM