Revealed: New Zealand regions with the most alcohol deaths

The New Zealand regions with the most alcohol deaths have been revealed - and the toll of human suffering grows each week.

The most recent figures, collected in 2015, show 180 people died as a result of their alcohol abuse.

A map by district health board (DHB) shows no region has escaped unscathed. Canterbury was worst affected, with 23 deaths, followed by Waitemata and Auckland.

But these deaths are just the beginning. University of Otago Chair in Preventive and Social Medicine Professor Jennie Connor told Newshub the Ministry of Health only counts where someone died and alcohol was put on their death certificate.

She calls it "a vast under-representation of even the physical harm from alcohol", and warns the death toll is actually likely to be around 800 deaths per year.

Deaths in 2015.
Deaths in 2015. Photo credit: Newshub

Addiction Practitioners' Association Aotearoa New Zealand (Dapaanz) executive director Sue Paton says we have a "normalised culture of binge drinking/right of passage".

"It's still the lion-share of the problem relates to hazardous drinking," she told Newshub.

"Still biggest burden on society - car crash, accidents, acute intoxication, domestic and other violence, social and justice problems and health effects."

Alcohol Healthwatch executive director Dr Nicki Jackson agrees.

"Our drinking culture remains problematic, with every New Zealander picking up the tab," she told Newshub.

"Almost half of all alcohol sold in our country is consumed in heavy drinking occasions; that paints the picture of our relationship with alcohol."

During the 2016-2017 financial year, 4070 people were hospitalised due to their alcohol consumption. Reasons ranged from acute intoxication to degeneration of nervous system due to alcohol.

Auckland was the worst region in New Zealand, with 508 hospitalisations. Waitemata was second with 488 - followed by Canterbury on 423.

The map showing hospitalisations during the 2016/2017 financial year.
The map showing hospitalisations during the 2016/2017 financial year. Photo credit: Newshub

These statistics have been blamed on our lack of alcohol policy.

"It has been the lack of strong alcohol policies that has contributed to our increases in drinking," Dr Jackson argues.

"In 2010, the Law Commission recommended strong evidence-based measures such as increasing alcohol prices, reducing availability and restricting alcohol advertising and sponsorship. But the 2012 laws didn't include any of these measures."

Ms Paton wants us to introduce minimum prices, introduce very strict advertising regulation, and strengthen community say in liquor licencing.

"There is nothing stopping us from making these changes if there is a real will to do so. We just need to say enough is enough and make the call to do what it takes."

These experts also want New Zealand to offer more health resources to people struggling with their alcohol use.

"We need easily accessible free services for any problem drinkers who need them," Dr Conner told Newshub. "These include specialist services for dependent drinkers and their families."

Ms Paton told Newshub we need more early intervention in primary care settings.

"This includes screening and brief intervention. There needs to be a reduction in waiting times for people seeking help specialist treatment," she says.

"It is really easy to take our eye off the alcohol ball with lots of focus on methamphetamine hype. Whatever the drug, help should be available in a timely fashion.

"There also needs to be a community response - supports in the community for people who are seeking change."

But if nothing is done, the rate of hospitalisations and deaths will continue to climb.

"We cannot sustain the increasing healthcare burden of treating more and more hazardous drinkers every year. No wonder DHBs are under such massive strain and there is no money left in the kitty," Dr Jackson says.