INJURIES received through alcohol-related assaults are overshadowing the issue of young people being seriously injured or killed by drink driving accidents, according to Associate Professor Russell Roberts.
The Western Local Health District (WLHD) Director of Mental Health and Drug and Alcohol Services, Associate Professor Roberts says while the media focus is on alcohol-related violence in and around licensed premises, it is time to highlight the impact of death and injury caused by drink driving on families and health services in the region.
Associate Professor Roberts said any plans to mount a federal government summit focusing on alcohol needed to involve this region, with a bipartisan approach by state and federal governments.
“Our region makes up 30 per cent of the population and it is important we have a voice in any summit and should not be regarded as an afterthought, we want our share,” he said.
Associate Professor Roberts wants the community to realise action is needed now in rural NSW to focus on how injuries from drink driving affect young people, with data showing there are almost twice as many drink driving accidents as there are assaults involving alcohol.
He says the culture of drinking and driving in the bush is heavily entrenched, but creating community awareness can affect change.
“Look what happened with smoking rates. It took 20 years for change but it happened and I am confident it can be done with alcohol,” he said.
Associate Professor Roberts said people in the WLHD were driving while drunk because they had no alternative.
“There is no such thing as public transport, so people get in their vehicles or passengers get in with someone who has been drinking, because that’s what has always happened,” he said.
Associate Professor Roberts said the cost on the health system was unsustainable, unless there was a shift in thinking, and a summit could make that a reality.
“There needs to be a look at the big picture involving alcohol, not just about alcohol-related assaults,” he said.
However, he is not discounting the impact of alcohol-related violence in the region, saying it is demoralising for staff in emergency departments who are abused and assaulted themselves as they try to treat injuries.
“Our emergency department staff often have to deal with drunken idiots and its hard on them,” Associate Professor Roberts said.
He says limiting the availability of alcohol and introducing more education programs are pivotal to addressing the issues of death and injury involving alcohol.
“We need serious action on this and we just want a fair go for the bush,” he said.
Associate Professor Roberts encouraged residents of the central west to lobby their state and federal members to urge rural participation in any alcohol summit that has been proposed by the Australian Medical Association.