Experts have warned that there could be 210,000 avoidable alcohol-related deaths over the next 20 years, in a comment published online today in The Lancet.
The comment gives an update on projections of alcohol-related deaths in England and Wales and challenges the government to take action to prevent these avoidable deaths.
The comment comes from alcohol policy expert and former president of the Royal College of Physicians, Professor Ian Gilmore, as well as Dr Nick Sheron, from the NIHR Biomedical Research Unit and University Hospital Southampton NHS Foundation Trust, and colleagues from the British Society of Gastroenterology.
In the article, the authors provides their latest projections on alcohol-related deaths in England and Wales over the next two decades, based on data up to 2010.
If current trends continue in a worst-case scenario for the UK, they predict that there will be as many as 210,000 avoidable alcohol-related deaths in the next 20 years, of which 70,000 will be avoidable deaths from liver disease and the rest from other causes including accidents, violence, and suicide or from chronic diseases.
Although their new projection is a slight improvement on what the same team of researchers predicted in a previous comment published one year ago, the UK was still at a “tipping point” on this issue.
Last year’s projection suggested a worst-case scenario of up to 250,000 avoidable alcohol-related deaths over the following 20 years, of which 77,000 would be deaths from liver disease.
Alcohol-related liver deaths in England and Wales fell from 6,470 in 2008 to 6,230 in 2009, but then increased again to 6,317 in 2010.
The authors said: “Unfortunately, the recent moderate improvement might be related more to the recession than to current alcohol policy; the fact that deaths increased during 2009–10 indicates there is no room for complacency.
“It remains entirely within the power of the UK government to prevent the worst-case scenario of avoidable deaths. Although alcohol-related disease may take years to develop, fatalities generally reflect recent drinking.”
There was a conflict of interest in current UK government alcohol policy, said the authors, and that policy relied on the alcohol industry being party to a voluntary ‘responsibility deal’ promoting safe drinking. The problem was that the first priority of all these companies, they argued, was to maximise profits for shareholders.
“By contrast, the Scottish Government is pressing ahead with a raft of evidence-based measures to reduce alcohol consumption, such as banning special offers based on bulk purchase and instituting a minimum price per unit of alcohol,” they said.
The authors said the UK was at a potential tipping point in tackling preventable loss of life caused by alcohol that often affected younger people—the peak age for alcohol-related deaths is in people aged 45–65 years and alcohol is a factor in 26.6% of deaths in men aged 16–24 years.
The authors concluded: “The UK government will have to withstand powerful lobbying from the drinks industry, but the prize of reversing this tragic toll of alcohol-related deaths is there for the taking.”