Irish Examiner – President of UCC issues alcohol warning

Health problems and Ireland’s image abroad will worsen significantly unless rising alcohol abuse by young people is reversed, the head of one of the country’s biggest colleges has warned.

University College Cork president Dr Michael Murphy’s grim prognosis follows an inquest this week after a student died after drinking a cocktail of beer and vodka.

He said society and the Government need to wake up to the devastation caused by alcohol, claming the affordability of drink and the disposable income available to most young people are compounding the problem.

“Pricing policy is the first effective intervention I would suggest and that’s an administrative one that could be dealt with relatively quickly,” said Dr Murphy, a former head of UCC’s medical school.

“I would be seriously concerned about the medium to long-term health impacts on Irish society of alcohol consumption continuing at its current levels. It will bring about an epidemic of liver disease and other health consequences, as well as more accidents and tragedies like the one reported yesterday,” he said.

A coroner heard on Thursday that UCC student Gary Murphy, a 19-year-old from Grantstown, Co Waterford, died in hospital last December, 10 days after passing out following a mix of six to 11 cans of beer and half a bottle of vodka. His blood-alcohol level was eight times the legal limit for driving.

Dr Murphy said colleges are being faced with the issue of alcohol abuse when they try to market Irish education abroad, as parents of potential students say they find the drinking aspect of Irish culture unattractive.

“They’re picking it up through current students from overseas reporting back to their parents or their old schools. It’s being picked up in the media too and becoming part of the Irish image abroad,” he said.

The UCC president said the problem has been evolving for more than a decade but alcohol prices that are much more affordable are contributing to more tragedies and accidents.

“There’s a need for a clear statement from various organisations across Irish society – such as colleges like ourselves – but we would then expect the Government would take the lead in forcing public opinion,” Dr Murphy said.

The drinks trade says the country has some of Europe’s highest alcohol taxes. The Drinks Industry Group of Ireland called earlier this week for a 20% cut in such charges to help tackle a 16% drop in consumption and a 25% fall in employment in recent years. It says it generates more than €2 billion in VAT and excise and exports worth €1bn a year.

It is estimated that one person dies in Ireland every seven hours from alcohol- related illness, drink is a factor in almost one-third of emergency department visits and 2,000 hospital beds are occupied by patients with drink-related illnesses.

The UCC boss said attitudes might be different if people were more aware that alcohol is more damaging to society than smoking or any other drug, which was highlighted in the Lancet journal this week.


Source: The Irish Examiner, 06/11/10
Journalist: Niall Murray, Education Correspondent