Māori public health experts call for urgent action to reduce alcohol-related damage

Māori public health experts are calling for urgent action to reduce alcohol-related damage in New Zealand.

It comes after the release of two reports, one claiming alcohol is the most harmful drug in Aotearoa and the other showing drink driver crashes are on the rise.

Carole Koha has worked in Māori health for over 30 years and sees the harmful impacts of alcohol every day.

"We are now looking after three-four generations of people, Māori, that have that alcohol within them," the Te Waka Whaiora CEO said.

Koha runs an alcohol addiction support service in Wellington and says alcohol harm disproportionally affects Māori.

"The reason why I believe the stats are so high is because it is a legal substance, and the Government haven't regulated it," she said.

Koha wants to see urgent change following research released last week, showing just how harmful alcohol can be, and not just for Māori.

A study from Otago University found alcohol is the most harmful drug in Aotearoa, based on the number of medical conditions linked to it.

In the same week, Waka Kotahi figures showed more than 100 people died in alcohol-related crashes last year. That's more than double the fatalities in 2013. 

"For there to be any change, we need to withdraw and look at the numbers of alcohol outlets that are in small communities, we need to have more services around," Koha said.

The Automobile Association, which released the drink driving figures, agreed more action is needed.

"We're losing the battle on drink driving at the moment in New Zealand, the fact that we have gone so far backwards from where we were 10 years ago is absolutely tragic," AA road safety spokesperson Dylan Thomsen said.

The Prime Minister said progress is being made on alcohol reform.

"There's been a lot of work done around alcohol reform, across the entire time that I have been a member of Parliament," Prime Minister Chris Hipkins said.

However, it's not enough work according to those on the front line.